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Magnets and an Afflicted Mind: Effects of TMS on Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a severe mental disorder that had crippled people throughout history. Before humans began really studying psychology, people associated schizophrenia with demons and possession. Thanks to the advancement of cognitive sciences, we have a greater understanding of this mental disease.

 

Schizophrenia Symptoms

Common symptoms of this disease include:

  • Hearing voices with no external sources
  • Severe paranoia – e.g. believing other people are plotting against them
  • Twisted sense of perception
  • Using made-up words that make sense to them
  • Sociopathic behavior and self-isolation, often due to aforementioned paranoia

 

There are patterns to the disease, but schizophrenia can be unpredictable. The harder part is that there’s not much reason nor rhyme to the disease. A person can appear functional until they start talking, or have their episodes.

 

Antipsychotics

Schizophrenia currently has no “cure” as we don’t know the exact cause the illness. Thankfully, it’s manageable, allowing a person to live a functional life. One such treatment is through the use of antipsychotics.

We used antipsychotics since the 1950’s, but these drugs have side-effects. One of them, Clozapine, is an effective antipsychotic drug but can cause low white blood cell count, which can put a patient’s health at risk. Eventually, we developed drugs that don’t negatively affect the body as much. These “atypical” drugs are effective but can cause increased weight gain and metabolic changes, which can lead to a host of other risks.

Long-term use of these medications may cause involuntary twitching of your muscles. Called “Tardive Dyskinesia”, the body sends errant signals to the muscles, commonly around the mouth or the fingers.

 

How “Magnets” can Help

For people who want an alternative method of treating schizophrenia, magnets may have something to offer.

TMS or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation can affect the brain in ways that are beneficial to schizophrenic patients. The effect can be witnessed during the “mapping” part of the procedure, where a patient’s hand or leg would twitch when the electromagnetic “coil” is activated on top of a patient’s head. Since the cells of your body are affected by electricity, precise and harmless electromagnetic waves can trigger neurons to fire.

This essentially “retrains” areas of the brain to activate better by stimulating them. TMS could also be used to enhance certain brain functions using the same stimulating effect. It has uses in treating depression and migraines, with more conditions already in clinical trials. The key on how TMS can help treat Schizophrenia is through “Cortical Inhibition”

Put simply, cortical inhibition is your brain’s way of calming down brain activity with GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), a chemical responsible for helping you calm down from excitement or anger, among other things.

Researchers saw that an aspect of schizophrenia had something to do with the lack of cortical inhibition, which itself was caused by an impairment of a region of the brain. By using TMS to stimulate certain parts of the brain, it could potentially “retrain” those areas to activate during schizophrenic attacks and help patients more easily manage the symptoms on their own.

While clinical trials are ongoing and are so far inconclusive, there’s still a tremendous amount of speculation that TMS will widely recognized as an excellent treatment option for schizophrenia.

 

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a psychosis and one of the most incapacitating mental disorders that affect how an individual thinks, feels, and sees. It affects about one percent of the US population. From the years 2009 to 2011, schizophrenia cases accounted for more than 382,000 emergency room visits.

It is a chronic brain disorder characterized by:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Problems concentrating
  • Abnormal social behavior

The disorder will leave an individual withdrawn and frightened most of the time. Although it may seem severe, symptoms can improve over time. Still, there are no known causes of schizophrenia at this time. Experts consider genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental influences as being major factors in developing the disorder.

 

Signs of Schizophrenia

A person who suffers schizophrenia experiences difficulty distinguishing between reality and the imagination.  Like other disorders, the severity and duration of the symptoms can vary. Despite what most people think, schizophrenia does not refer to multiple or split personalities. Instead, schizophrenic people will lose touch with reality during what are known as psychotic episodes.

Some of the most common signs of schizophrenia include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability or depressed mood
  • Lack of motivation
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorganized thinking or speech
  • Avoiding eye contacts
  • Blank facial expressions
  • Decrease interest in everyday activities
  • Socially withdrawn
  • Lack of simple pleasures

 

Traditional Treatments

Even today, there are still no known cures for schizophrenia. There are several treatments that can manage the symptoms of the disorder. These include the following:

  • Medication
  • Individual therapy
  • Social skills training

Medical science is finding new and safer treatments for the disorder. Experts are attempting to discover the root cause of the disorder by conducting behavioral research and genetics testing as well. This can help researchers unravel the best possible treatments for this mental illness.

 

TMS

Experts are now discovering the uses of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS. TMS uses magnetic pulses to stimulate brain nerve cells. The stimulation affects the network of neurons in the brain which can activate its functions. The therapy involves health care professionals to administer these magnetic pulses through the surface of the scalp. As a simple procedure with very minor side effects, the treatment has several ongoing studies to find ways to treat mental disorders.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of TMS in 2008 in treating depression. Today, researchers are finding ways to use TMS in treating many other disorders, including schizophrenia, anxiety, autism and more.

 

Treating Schizophrenia with TMS

Schizophrenia is often associated with hypofrontality. Stimulating this part of the brain using TMS can increase activity in the reward system. Some studies show that TMS can have positive effects on the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Deep TMS offers a safe and effective alternative in treating schizophrenia. It is a simple non-invasive treatment that doesn’t require sedation or anesthesia. The patient remains fully alert and can immediately resume their daily routine immediately after treatment. Risks are relatively low, as there are no fears of non-systemic side effects.

Many experts see TMS therapy as a potential treatment for the disorder. Most schizophrenic patients require support from their loved ones to live. But with proper medical treatment and management, they can manage to finally live life on their own.

 

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