A pacemaker for depression? New device may help relieve symptoms, study finds

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The researchers recently published their results in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Thirteen years after the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the use of an implanted nerve stimulator as treatment for antidepressant treatment-resistant individuals with major depression, scientists have found that the pacemaker-like device helped patients reduce depressive symptoms by 50 percent when combined with other common psychiatric treatment.

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The researchers recently published their results of the adjunctive vagus nerve stimulation treatment in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The nine-year study involved a five-year clinical registry with quality of life data on nearly 600 treatment-resistant individuals, including information on economic situation, social relationships, physical health, demographics, duration of illness, number of depressive episodes and more.

» RELATED: Major depression diagnoses in US up 33 percent since 2013, study finds

All individuals received typical antidepressant treatment, but half also received the implanted nerve stimulator, attached to the body’s vagus nerve.

According to the researchers, patients with the combined typical treatment plus implanted stimulator reported a significantly better quality of life compared to the typical-only group, with improvements starting as early as three months in and lasting as long as five years.

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Such quality of life improvements, measured both by patient surveys and scientifically-proven clinician-reported analyses, included better social interactions, work habits, plus “overall well-being, improvement in perceived ability to function, household activities, and leisure activities,” according to the study.

Some limitations of the research, according to the authors, include the fact that patients and treating clinicians knew whether they were receiving the typical-only treatment or the combined treatment. There were also some dropouts in the fourth and fifth year of the study, but the 50 percent reduction in depressive symptoms would not be affected by that dropout.

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But in conclusion, the researchers said the adjunctive treatment with the implanted pacemaker-like vagus nerve device resulted in greater improvements in quality of life compared to how major depression is typically treated, especially in individuals considered most resistant to antidepressants.

They hope the findings will encourage health insurance companies to offer the devices and implant surgery, considering most, including Medicare, rarely cover them.

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Over the past five years, diagnoses of major depression in the U.S. have risen by about 33 percent. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

The country also experienced a nearly 30 percent increase in suicide rates between 1999-2016, according to a recent report from Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rates among 15- to 19-year-old girls doubled between 2007 and 2015, reaching a 40-year high.

Georgia in particular experienced a 16.2 percent increase in suicide rates, comparatively low compared with the 25 states where suicide rates rose by nearly 30 percent. But the figure is still considered a significant increase, according to the CDC.

Read the full study at psychiatrist.com.