RowanSOM professor administers magnetic pulse therapy to treat depression

RowanSOM professor administers magnetic pulse therapy to treat depression

One of the many myths about depression is that it is a mental condition that can be controlled by the person affected.

"Just choose to be happy," some may say.

But for those who are affected, they know that's not the case.

When a patient is experiencing depression, some of the neurons in the brain actually go "off line."

Dr. John O'Reardon, professor and Director of the Center for Mood Disorders and Neuromodulation Therapies at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, is a leader in the field of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) - a procedure that helps get those neurons working properly again.

"The pre-frontal cortex is involved in regulating and maintaining normal mood," O'Reardon said.

When depression occurs, the neurons in that area "go on strike," he said.

During TMS, a high-strength magnetic field - similar to that used in an MRI - is placed on the front of the scalp near the pre-frontal cortex.

"The magnetic field coaxes it to wake up," O'Reardon said. "It sends energy into the surface of the brain and affects the neurons who are offline."

The stimulation re-energizes the neurons and, as they start to heal, the depression lifts, he said.

O'Reardon said this treatment is for patients who have severe depression.

"This is for patients who are severely ill," he said. "Those who have had loads of medication and therapy, and feel they are at the end of the road."

Amanda Helmer, R.N., has been assisting O'Reardon with TMS for the past six years and has administered approximately 6,000 sessions during that time.

"She's probably one of the most qualified people in the country," O'Reardon said.

With O'Reardon in the chair to act as a TMS patient, Helmer used a magnetic device to stimulate his motor cortex.

"We find the spot on the left side of the brain that makes his right hand move," Helmer said.

She searches until the hand twitches which indicates she has found the motor cortex.

"Then we turn (the magnetic pulse) down a bit, move five centimeters forward of the motor cortex and place the center of the coil over that mark," Helmer said.

Once the spot is found with a smaller magnet, a larger coil is placed over the pre-frontal cortex, and secured in place, resting on the scalp.

The magnet sends pulses for five seconds, then rests for 15 seconds.

"When it's off, it's quiet," Helmer said. "When it's on, it gives 50 pulses quickly within five seconds. The pulses hit the brain and activate the neurons."

During a session - which lasts about 25 minutes - a patient will receive approximately 4,000 pulses.

O'Reardon said TMS does not provide an immediate solution.

"It's gradual," he said. "A patient usually gets 10 to 15 treatments before they see a response. In the beginning, patients need the treatment five days a week. Then, when they start to get better, they can go down to once a month."

While that may seem like a lot of therapy, TMS has little to no side effects.

O'Reardon said medications for depression must travel throughout the body and can cause several side effects. TMS has minimal side effects because it goes directly to the brain.

"The only side effect is some scalp discomfort or mild headache during the session," he said, noting that many patients experience no side effects at all.

O'Reardon, who has been administering TMS for 17 years, said he is thankful to have Helmer working with him.

"She does five to eight sessions per day, 30 to 40 per week," O'Reardon said of Helmer. "She has a lot of compassion for her patients."

For more information about the Center for Mood Disorders and Neuromodulation Therapies, call 856-482-9000 or visit

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Date Published: Thursday, September 11, 2014 - 14:30
Source URL: South Jersey Times