Nerve Stimulation, Depression and Quality of Life

By Steve Barrett
Thursday, December 6, 2018

Nerve stimulation can boost quality of life for people with depression, a study spearheaded by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests.

About 600 patients for whom separate or combination use of four or more antidepressants had not delivered relief took part in the study. Researchers used stimulators that sent mild electrical pulses to the brain via the vagus nerve.

Patients using stimulators and, in many cases, medication, had more improvement on 10 of 14 quality-of-life measures than patients using only combinations of treatments such as psychotherapy and antidepressants. Among those measures were overall well-being and the ability to work.

While vagus nerve stimulation has long been FDA-approved for addressing treatment-resistant depression, the study expanded assessment of patients’ responses to nerve stimulation beyond the therapy’s antidepressant effect.

“For a person to be considered to have responded to a depression therapy, he or she needs to experience a 50 percent decline in his or her standard depression score,” Charles R. Conway, MD, Washington University Professor of Psychiatry, said in a news release about the findings. “But we noticed anecdotally that some patients with stimulators reported they were feeling much better even though their scores were only dropping 34 to 40 percent.”

About 16 million U.S. adults had a major depressive episode in 2016, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The findings were published online in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.