tDCS Device for Anxiety: Exploring Effectiveness, Treatment, and Safety

Jun 26, 202412 min
Author's Profile picture
Dr. Himanshu Nirvan
Mave Health, ex AIIMS ex Safdarjung
tdcs device for anxiety - a young lgirl who is happy while using tdcs device

Introduction to tDCS Device for Anxiety

Anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), and panic disorder, are prevalent mental health conditions characterised by excessive and persistent worry, fear, or nervousness. Generalised anxiety disorder involves chronic and exaggerated worry about everyday activities, social anxiety disorder is marked by intense fear and avoidance of social situations, and panic disorder is characterised by sudden and repeated episodes of intense fear known as panic attacks

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has emerged as a promising non-invasive treatment option for various mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders. There are a few other ways to control anxiety like the 5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Anxiety and the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety as well, but where those fail, tDCS steps in. 

It involves the application of a low electrical current to specific areas of the brain, particularly the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), aiming to modulate neural activity and alleviate symptoms. This article delves into the use of tDCS for reducing symptoms associated with anxiety disāorders, exploring its potential benefits and current research findings.

How Does Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation [tDCS] Work?

Transcranial direct current stimulation is a straightforward, non-invasive treatment that uses electrical currents to help improve brain function. The system comprises two main components: electrodes and a current generator. Here is how it works:

  1. Electrodes: These are small, flat pieces that are placed on your scalp.
  2. Current Generator: This device sends a weak electrical current through the electrodes to the PFC.

When the current flows through the electrodes, it stimulates the PFC, which regulates emotions. This gentle stimulation can help improve these areas' activity, reducing anxiety symptoms.

There are different types of tDCS devices available. Research-grade devices are typically used in scientific studies to explore the effectiveness and mechanisms of tDCS, while clinical-grade devices are used in medical settings to treat patients. Despite these differences, all tDCS devices operate on the same basic principle: delivering a weak electrical current to stimulate specific brain areas and improve mental health.

How Does tDCS Work for Anxiety?

tDCS is increasingly being studied as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. The underlying mechanisms by which tDCS may alleviate anxiety involve modulating brain activity and enhancing neural communication. An article which delves into the intricacies of how tDCS exactly works.

Reducing Overactivity: 

One of the primary theories is that tDCS can help reduce the overactivity in specific brain regions associated with anxiety. For instance, the amygdala, which plays a crucial role in processing fear and emotions, tends to be overactive in individuals with anxiety disorders. By applying a weak electrical current through tDCS, it is possible to decrease this overactivity, potentially leading to a reduction in anxiety symptoms. This calming effect on the amygdala can help lessen the intense emotional responses that are characteristic of anxiety disorders (Bikson et al., 2019).

Enhancing Communication: 

Another critical aspect of how tDCS may help with anxiety is by enhancing communication between different areas of the brain. Effective emotional regulation requires good connectivity between the prefrontal cortex (responsible for higher-order thinking and decision-making) and the amygdala. In individuals with anxiety, this communication is often impaired. tDCS can strengthen the connections between these regions, improving the brain’s ability to manage and regulate emotions (Shiozawa et al., 2014).

Modulating Neurotransmitter Levels: 

Additionally, tDCS is believed to influence the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate, which play critical roles in regulating mood and anxiety. By altering the balance of these neurotransmitters, tDCS may contribute to a more balanced and less anxious state of mind (Kuo et al., 2014).

The exact mechanisms by which tDCS exerts its effects are still being explored. Ongoing research aims to understand better how tDCS influences brain activity and connectivity to optimise its use for anxiety treatment. Studies are investigating different parameters of tDCS, such as electrode placement, current strength, and duration of treatment, to determine the most effective approaches for alleviating anxiety symptoms (Dedoncker et al., 2016).

It is crucial to consult a doctor before using tDCS for anxiety. While tDCS is a promising treatment, it is not suitable for everyone and must be used under professional supervision. A healthcare professional can assess your specific condition and determine if tDCS is an appropriate treatment option for you. They can also ensure that the treatment is administered safely, minimising potential risks and side effects.

Research on tDCS for Anxiety: Effectiveness and Success Rates

tDCS has garnered significant attention as an alternative potential treatment for anxiety disorders. Research on its effectiveness is still evolving, with numerous studies investigating how well it works and the success rates associated with its use. Several studies have shown promising results regarding the effectiveness of tDCS in treating anxiety disorders.

For example, a study by Brunoni et al. (2017) found that tDCS significantly reduced symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in participants compared to a placebo treatment. Participants reported feeling less anxious and more in control of their anxiety attacks after receiving tDCS.

Similarly, another study conducted by Vignaud et al. (2019) demonstrated that tDCS could effectively reduce social anxiety symptoms. Participants who received tDCS showed marked improvement in their ability to handle social situations without excessive fear or worry.

Success rates for tDCS in treating anxiety disorders vary across studies. In the study by Brunoni et al. (2017), about 60% of participants experienced a meaningful reduction in their anxiety symptoms, indicating a moderately high success rate. Vignaud et al. (2019) reported similar findings, with approximately 55% of participants showing significant improvement in social anxiety symptoms after tDCS treatment. They also reported a reduction in chest pain.

Many individuals who have tried tDCS for anxiety have shared their personal experiences, adding a valuable perspective to the scientific data. For instance, in a study conducted by Grycuk et al. (2021), all participants experienced the treatment as positive and, in some cases, enjoyable: “I've really enjoyed [the treatment], I found it interesting”. Participants also mentioned feeling happier and having improved relaxation, motivation, and concentration following the sessions, and some even reported feeling the need to improve their eating habits.

Despite these limitations, tDCS holds promising potential for specific anxiety disorders. The existing research suggests that tDCS can be particularly effective for generalised anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. As more studies are conducted, researchers will likely gain a clearer understanding of how to optimise tDCS treatment protocols to maximise its benefits for individuals with anxiety disorders.

Benefits of Using tDCS for Anxiety

Using tDCS helps with anxiety and offers several potential advantages compared to traditional treatments like medication and therapy.

  1. Non-Invasive Treatment Option: tDCS is non-invasive, meaning it does not require surgery or implantation. tDCS involves placing electrodes on the scalp and delivering a mild electrical current to the PFC, the part that regulates emotions. This approach avoids the potential side effects and risks associated with medications or invasive procedures, making it a safer option for many individuals. For more information on non-invasive brain stimulation techniques like tDCS, you can explore our article on Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation.
  2. Potentially Fewer Side Effects: Unlike medications, which can cause a range of side effects such as dizziness, weight gain, or sexual dysfunction, tDCS is generally well-tolerated. Most users report minimal to no side effects beyond mild discomfort or tingling sensation during the treatment session. This makes it preferable for those seeking treatments with fewer adverse effects.
  3. tDCS for Some Treatment-Resistant Cases: For individuals who have not responded well to traditional treatments like medications or therapy, tDCS may offer new hope. Research suggests that tDCS is effective in anxiety cases where other methods have failed to alleviate symptoms adequately. It works by directly targeting brain areas associated with anxiety, potentially providing relief when other treatments have been unsuccessful.

While tDCS shows promise for treating anxiety, it is essential to consult with a doctor or healthcare professional before considering this option. A healthcare provider can assess your situation, discuss potential benefits and risks, and determine if tDCS suits you. They can also ensure that tDCS is administered safely and effectively, tailored to your individual needs.

Safety Considerations: Side Effects and Risks of Using tDCS for Anxiety

Potential Side Effects

Neurostimulation devices usually have side effects. tDCS is generally considered safe and well-tolerated. However, some individuals may experience mild tDCS side effects during or after treatment sessions. These can include:

  • Tingling Sensation: Many users report a mild tingling sensation or itching under the electrodes during tDCS sessions. This sensation is usually temporary and subsides once the session is complete.
  • Mild Discomfort: Some individuals may experience mild discomfort or a sensation of warmth at the electrode sites. This discomfort is typically mild and tolerable.
  • Headache: In some cases, individuals may experience mild headaches following tDCS sessions. These headaches are usually short-lived and can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers.

Safety and Consultation

While tDCS is generally safe, it is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before using this treatment for anxiety. A healthcare provider can assess your medical history, discuss potential tDCS risks and safety concerns, and determine if it suits your needs. A psychologist can help you out in more ways than one, but you need to provide them with the relevant and correct information at the earliest. Also be prepared with answers to a few common questions that you might be asked so that your sessions go smoother.

Importance of Professional Guidance

Consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial for several reasons:

  • Personalised Assessment: A healthcare provider can evaluate whether tDCS is appropriate based on your medical history and condition.
  • Safety Monitoring: They can monitor your progress during treatment to ensure it is administered safely and effectively.
  • Risk Management: They can discuss potential risks and benefits, helping you decide about tDCS as a treatment option.

Who is a Candidate for tDCS Anxiety Treatment?

  1. Treatment-Resistant Anxiety: If you have been diagnosed with anxiety and have found little relief from standard treatments, such as antidepressants or cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), tDCS could offer a new approach. Research suggests that tDCS may be effective for individuals whose symptoms persist despite trying other treatments.
  2. Limited Response to Medication: For those who experience intolerable side effects from medications or have not achieved satisfactory results with them, tDCS presents a non-pharmacological alternative. It works by modulating brain activity, targeting specific areas involved in anxiety regulation, and potentially offering relief without the side effects associated with medications.
  3. Use in Non-Diagnosed Individuals: People who have not been diagnosed with anxiety can also benefit from tDCS. This treatment can help alleviate anxiety symptoms in individuals who experience them but have not sought or received a formal diagnosis.
  4. Non-Clinical Use Cases: tDCS has several promising non-clinical applications, including:
  • Enhancing Focus: By stimulating certain brain regions, tDCS can improve concentration and cognitive performance, making it a valuable tool for students, professionals, and anyone looking to boost their mental acuity.
  • Improving Sleep: tDCS can also aid in improving sleep quality. It helps regulate brain activity to promote better sleep patterns, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with insomnia or other sleep disturbances.

It is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional before considering tDCS for anxiety treatment. A doctor can evaluate your case, discuss your treatment history, and determine if tDCS suits you. They can also ensure that the treatment is administered safely and monitor your progress.

The tDCS Treatment Process for Anxiety

tDCS can be administered in clinical settings or, where legally permitted, at home. Here is an overview of both approaches:

Clinical tDCS Treatment:

  1. Preparation: Before a clinical tDCS session for anxiety, you will typically consult a healthcare provider. This involves discussing your medical history, current symptoms, and previous treatments. Screening may also include a brief neurological assessment to ensure safety and suitability for tDCS. 
  2. tDCS Procedure: During a clinical tDCS session, you can expect the following: Electrodes are placed on your forehead based on the. The electrodes are connected to a device that delivers a low-intensity electrical current (usually between 1 to 2 milliamps) to modulate brain activity. During the session, you may experience mild sensations such as tingling, itching, or a slight warmth under the electrodes. The session typically lasts about 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Treatment Course: A typical course of clinical tDCS treatment for anxiety may involve multiple sessions spread over several weeks. The frequency of sessions can vary but is often daily or several times a week initially, followed by less frequent sessions as symptoms improve. The exact number of sessions recommended depends on individual response and treatment protocols established by your healthcare provider.

Using a tDCS Device at Home (if applicable):

  1. Considerations: Using a tDCS device for anxiety treatment is classified by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) as a medical device. Due to its established safety profile, tDCS devices are being sold globally as over-the-counter (OTC) products, making them accessible for home use. Discussing with a healthcare provider is crucial to understanding potential risks and limitations compared to clinical settings and the appropriate use of these. Deep brain stimulation is another alternative approach to tDCS.
  2. Instructions: Using a tDCS device at home requires strict adherence to manufacturer instructions and safety precautions. This includes proper electrode placement and monitoring for adverse effects during and after each session. Consultation with a doctor before starting home use is strongly recommended to determine suitability and ensure proper guidance.

Disclaimer: This information serves educational purposes only and does not substitute medical advice. Consultation with a healthcare professional is essential before using a tDCS device at home for anxiety treatment. They can provide personalised guidance based on your medical history and specific needs.

Cost of tDCS Treatment for Anxiety

The cost of transcranial direct current stimulation treatment for anxiety can vary depending on whether it is administered in a clinical setting or used at home (where it is legally permissible). Here is an overview of the costs in India:

Clinical tDCS Treatment:

In India, clinical tDCS treatment for anxiety typically involves sessions administered by healthcare professionals in specialised clinics. The cost per tDCS session can range from ₹2000 to ₹5000 or more, depending on the location and the clinic's facilities.

Using a tDCS Device at Home (if applicable):

tDCS devices are legally available for home use in India, and the cost can vary based on the type and brand of the device. Depending on the features and quality, home-use tDCS devices typically range from ₹50000 to ₹80000 or more.

Mave Health’s tDCS device - the ‘ARC’ helps people manage symptoms of mental health disorders like depression without any side effects.

Conclusion

tDCS offers a promising non-invasive treatment for anxiety disorders like GAD, SAD, and panic disorder by modulating brain activity and enhancing emotional regulation. While some studies show significant symptom relief, individual responses vary. Consulting a healthcare professional before considering tDCS is essential to assess suitability and ensure safe treatment. Continued research will indeed refine its efficacy, safety, and role in anxiety management.

Sources

Author's Profile picture
Dr. Himanshu Nirvan
Mave Health, ex AIIMS ex Safdarjung
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