Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) has been used with good success to treat some mental illnesses. This treatment is relatively new but it has been used to treat depression for about 10 years. The therapy has shown positive results when used to treat schizophrenia and one study showed improved social skills in an autistic individual who received rTMS.
Up until recently it was unknown if rTMS could be used to treat ADHD. Several new studies, however, point to rTMS being useful for the treatment of ADHD as well. The studies published thus far, were all performed on adults with ADHD. The adults received magnetic stimulation over the prefrontal cortex and then were tested for gains in attention. A control group with ADHD received a 'fake' stimulation and then were tested for gains in attention. The group treated with rTMS showed significant gains in attention while the 'fake' group made no gains in attention whatsoever.
The therapy works by sending repeated magnetic signals through the skull to the brain over the area of the brain that produce dopamine. This stimulation is thought to improve the dopaminergic prefrontal abnormalities that are thought to cause ADHD. The rTMS therapy typically lasts for about 45 minutes but the gains from the therapy have been found to last for up to a year or longer.
The results of a study completed in March treating children with ADHD with rTMS have not yet been published but preliminary reports indicate that this therapy may also prove useful, as an alternative to stimulant therapy or other pharmaceutical therapy, in the treatment of childhood ADHD. None of the studies performed so far has reported differences in results based on ADHD subtypes so it is unclear if people with Inattentive ADHD (ADHD-PI) would have the same benefits as people with Combined type ADHD (ADHD-C) or Hyperactive Impulsive ADHD (ADHD-HI)
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) is an imaging study performed by radiologist. This study differs from an MRI in that the patient is asked to perform tasks that stimulate different parts of the brain while the imaging study is being performed. fMRI is yet another medical modality based on magnets that has been found to be useful in the diagnosis of psychiatric abnormalities. Recently, fMRI has been used to distinguish ADHD and bipolar disorder. The capacity of fMRI to aid in this distinction is important as these two disorders are frequently confused,especially in the pediatric population.
Magnetic therapy has been around for thousands of years. This therapy is commonly used in China, India and South America as an alternative to medical therapy to treat pain and problems with circulation. The magnets are thought to increase circulation to the areas that they are placed near and in this way are thought to lesson muscle and joint discomfort. Some cultures used magnets to treat cancer but not many clinical studies have been performed to test the benefits of magnet therapy for cancer, joint pain or other medical conditions.
Given the good results found from using rTMS, perhaps studies into the use of magnets to treat other diseases will be forthcoming. It would not be at all surprising if we found that magnets had more therapeutic benefits than we ever thought imaginable.
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