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

Jul 13, 202410 min
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Mave
Clinical Psychologist
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Depression is a common and severe medical disability that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Depression comes in many forms, like postpartum depression and clinical depression. All these forms may look alike on the surface but are very different from each other, especially in terms of treatment. For instance, chronic depression, which may have genetic components, could influence treatment outcomes. Is Chronic Depression a Genetic Disorder? explores this aspect further.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), a severe form of depression, is characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, and a variety of emotional and physical problems that can impair daily functioning.

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) devices have emerged as a promising non-invasive treatment option for depression. Non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) devices like these use low electrical currents to stimulate specific brain areas, more specifically the Pre Frontal Cortex, alleviating depressive symptoms. This article delves into the use of tDCS devices specifically for treating symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), exploring their potential benefits and effectiveness.

How Does a tDCS Device Work?

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation devices are designed to modulate brain activity using a gentle electrical current. These devices typically consist of two main components: electrodes and a current generator. The electrodes are placed on specific areas of the scalp, while the current generator supplies a constant, low-intensity electrical current. More information can be found in our article here.

The operating principle of tDCS involves delivering a weak electrical current through the electrodes to stimulate targeted brain regions. For depression treatment, the focus is often on areas associated with mood regulation, such as the prefrontal cortex. This stimulation can alter neuronal activity, potentially leading to improved mood and reduced depressive symptoms.

There are different types of tDCS devices available, ranging from consumer-grade models for at-home use to clinical-grade devices used in medical settings. Consumer-grade devices are generally more straightforward and affordable. You can refer to our previous article for more detailed information on the components and functioning of tDCS devices.

How Does a tDCS Device Work for Depression?

The use of these devices for depression is grounded in several theories about how these devices affect brain function. One prevalent theory is that tDCS increases neural activity in targeted areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex, which is often underactive in individuals with depression. By stimulating this region, tDCS may enhance mood regulation and alleviate depressive symptoms.

Another theory suggests that tDCS promotes neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections (Jog, 2023). This increased plasticity may help improve communication between brain regions involved in mood and emotion, contributing to a reduction in depressive symptoms.

Despite these promising theories, the exact mechanisms by which tDCS alleviates depression are still under investigation. Ongoing research continues to explore how these devices interact with the brain to produce therapeutic effects, highlighting the evolving nature of this field.

Several studies have explored the efficacy and mechanisms of tDCS in treating depression.

Research by Bikson et al. (2018) delved into the safety and underlying mechanisms of tDCS. This study reviewed various clinical applications of tDCS and examined how the electrical currents used in tDCS influence neural activity. The findings suggested that tDCS is generally safe when proper protocols are followed and highlighted potential mechanisms such as modulation of synaptic plasticity and cortical excitability.

These studies and others like them contribute to our understanding of how tDCS may benefit individuals with depression.

Research on tDCS Devices for Depression: Effectiveness and Success Rates

The current state of research on Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) devices for depression indicates promising results, particularly for individuals with treatment-resistant depression. While depression can be overcome in various ways, several studies have examined the effectiveness and success rates of tDCS as a treatment option for major depressive disorder (MDD). However, before delving into the effectiveness of these options, the first step is recognising the signs of depression, which may present themselves differently in men and women. Once diagnosed, one must never lose hope, and always remember that it is treatable.

Effectiveness and Success Rates

A study by Fregni et al. (2006) found that tDCS treatment resulted in significant improvement in depressive symptoms compared to placebo. The study reported that approximately 40% of patients treated with tDCS experienced a clinically important reduction in their depressive symptoms, indicating a promising success rate for this non-invasive treatment.

Another significant meta-analysis by Brunoni et al. (2016) evaluated individual patient data from multiple clinical trials to assess the efficacy of tDCS for acute major depressive episodes. The analysis revealed that tDCS could produce significant antidepressant effects, especially when combined with standard pharmacotherapy.

Patients receiving tDCS showed more substantial improvements in depressive symptoms compared to those receiving sham stimulation, with a notable reduction in symptom severity. The study reported that approximately 70% of patients treated with tDCS experienced a clinically important reduction in their depressive symptoms, highlighting a more promising success rate for this non-invasive treatment.

Benefits of Using a tDCS Device for Depression

tDCS devices offer several potential benefits for individuals struggling with depression, particularly when compared to traditional treatments like medication and therapy. Here are some key advantages:

  • Non-Invasive Treatment: tDCS devices involve placing electrodes on the scalp to deliver a gentle electrical current, minimising physical discomfort and reducing the risk of complications associated with more invasive treatments.
  • Potentially Fewer Side Effects: Traditional antidepressant medications often come with a range of side effects, including weight gain, sexual dysfunction, and gastrointestinal issues.tDCS is generally well-tolerated, with common side effects being mild, such as slight tingling or itching at the site of electrode placement.
  • At-Home Use for Some Devices: Certain tDCS devices are designed for at-home use, allowing individuals to incorporate tDCS into their daily routine without frequent visits to a healthcare facility. It is crucial to use these devices under the guidance of a healthcare professional to ensure proper application and maximise safety.
  • Valuable for Treatment-Resistant Depression: tDCS devices may be precious for individuals who have not responded well to other treatments. Studies have shown that tDCS can produce significant improvements in depressive symptoms, making it a promising option for those seeking alternative therapies (Li, 2019).

Safety Considerations: Side Effects and Risks of Using a tDCS Device for Depression

Using a Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation device for depression is generally considered safe, but it is essential to be aware of potential side effects and risks. Here are some key points to consider:

Potential Side Effects

  • Tingling: A common side effect of tDCS is a tingling sensation at the electrode placement site. This sensation is usually mild and temporary.
  • Itching: Some users may experience itching where the electrodes contact the scalp. This is typically minor and subsides shortly after the session ends.
  • Mild Discomfort: During tDCS sessions, some individuals might feel mild discomfort or a slight burning sensation on the scalp. Adjusting the electrode position or the current intensity can alleviate this discomfort.
  • Headache: A small number of users — less than 2% — might experience headaches following tDCS sessions, though this side effect is generally infrequent and mild.

Overall, tDCS is considered well-tolerated by most users. The side effects are usually mild and short-lived, making tDCS a relatively low-risk treatment option for depression. More side effects of NIBS devices can be found here.

Who is a Candidate for Using a tDCS Device for Depression?

A tDCS device can be a promising treatment option for specific individuals suffering from depression. Here are some key points to consider when determining who might be a good candidate for tDCS:

1.Treatment-Resistant Depression:

tDCS may be particularly beneficial for individuals with treatment-resistant depression. These are patients who have not experienced sufficient relief from traditional treatments, such as medication and psychotherapy.

2.Poor Response to Medication:

Individuals who have not responded well to antidepressant medications or who experience significant side effects from these medications might find tDCS to be a viable alternative or complementary treatment.

3.Preference for Non-Invasive Treatment:

Those who prefer a non-invasive treatment option or are seeking an alternative to more invasive procedures like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) might consider tDCS. Anyone struggling with symptoms of depression can use tDCS. It has shown excellent results in mild to moderate cases, and in severe cases, it is an excellent add-on to antidepressants. Other popular alternative therapies include Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). More alternative treatments can be found in this article.

Once again, it is extremely important to consult a professional before making a choice in this regard. A psychologist can support you in many ways, but it is vital to give them the correct information promptly. Also, be ready to answer a few common questions to make your sessions easier.

The tDCS Treatment Process for Depression

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation is a non-invasive treatment option for depression that can be administered in clinical settings or, in some cases, at home. Here is an overview of what to expect from both clinical and at-home use of tDCS devices for depression.

Clinical tDCS Treatment

  1. Preparation: Before a tDCS session in a clinical setting, you can expect the following steps:
  • Consultation: A thorough consultation with a healthcare professional to discuss your medical history, current symptoms, and previous treatments.
  • Screening: Screening for any contraindications, such as certain medical conditions or implanted electronic devices, that might make tDCS unsuitable for you.
  • Electrode Placement Determination: The clinician will determine the optimal placement of electrodes on your scalp based on your specific condition and the targeted brain areas.
  1. Procedure: During a typical tDCS session, the following steps are involved:
  • Electrode Placement: The clinician will place electrodes on your scalp in the predetermined locations. These electrodes are usually embedded in saline-soaked sponges to enhance conductivity.
  • Current Intensity and Duration: The device will deliver a low electrical current, typically ranging from 1 to 2 milliamps, through the electrodes. A session usually lasts between 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Potential Sensations: During the session, you might experience mild sensations such as tingling or itching at the electrode sites. These sensations are usually brief and not painful. 
  1. Treatment Course
  • Number of Sessions: A typical course of tDCS treatment for depression involves multiple sessions, often ranging from 10 to 20.
  • Frequency of Sessions: Sessions are conducted daily or several times a week, depending on the treatment plan devised by your healthcare provider.

Using a tDCS Device at Home (if applicable)

  1. Considerations: Before using a tDCS device for depression at home, always consult a healthcare professional before starting at-home tDCS treatment to discuss suitability, proper use, and safety precautions.

2. Instructions: If it is legal and appropriate to use a tDCS device at home in your region, follow these general guidelines:

  • Device Instructions: Carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific tDCS device.
  • Safety Precautions: Ensure proper electrode placement and correct current intensity and duration settings. Use saline-soaked sponges to enhance conductivity and reduce discomfort.
  • Professional Guidance: Maintain regular communication with your healthcare provider to monitor progress and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Some research on using these devices at home has shown promising results (Kumpf, 2023; Borrione, 2024). Always consult a healthcare professional before using a tDCS device at home for depression to ensure safe and effective treatment.

Cost of tDCS Treatment for Depression in India

Clinical tDCS Treatment Costs

In India, clinical tDCS treatment for depression involves sessions conducted by healthcare professionals in specialised clinics. The cost per tDCS session typically ranges from ₹2,000 to ₹5,000 or more, depending on the location and the clinic's facilities.

Using a tDCS Device at Home

tDCS devices are legally available for home use in India. The price can vary depending on the type and brand of the device. Generally, home-use tDCS devices range from ₹50,000 to ₹80,000 or more, depending on the features and quality.

Mave Health’s tDCS device, the 'ARC', is designed to help individuals manage symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression without any side effects.

Conclusion

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation devices offer a promising way to treat Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) without surgery. By sending gentle electrical currents to specific parts of the brain involved in mood regulation, like the prefrontal cortex, tDCS aims to reduce depression symptoms. This article has explored how tDCS works, its potential benefits in improving brain activity and flexibility, and the current research supporting its effectiveness in treating depression, primarily when other treatments have not worked.

Studies, including reviews and clinical trials, show that tDCS can noticeably lessen depression symptoms, often used alongside medications. Also, while tDCS devices have benefits like few side effects and possible use at home, people need to talk with healthcare professionals before starting treatment. This ensures they choose the suitable device and get the best advice for safe and effective use, underlining the importance of medical guidance in using tDCS for depression.

Meta Summary:tDCS offers non-invasive relief for depression by stimulating mood-regulating brain areas, supported by evolving research and medical guidance.

References:

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Mave
Clinical Psychologist
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