No Proof At-Home 'Cranial Stimulation' Eases Depression

From Drugs.com - February 12, 2018

No Proof At-Home 'Cranial Stimulation' Eases Depression

MONDAY, Feb. 12, 2018 -- Devices that send electrical pulses to the brain -- in the comfort of your own home -- are a treatment option for depression and certain other conditions. But a new research review finds little evidence they work.

The therapy -- known as cranial electrical stimulation (CES) -- involves a handheld device that delivers low-intensity electrical currents through electrodes placed on the head.

The new review, of 26 clinical trials, found "low-strength" evidence that the therapy can help people with both depression and anxiety.

But there was no proof it was effective for depression alone, insomnia, joint pain or chronic headaches.

However, the review does not prove the therapy does not work, either.

Researchers said the issue is that most of the studies were small, short-term or had other limitations.

"The evidence was insufficient that these devices are effective. But that's not the same as saying that they do not work," said lead researcher Dr. Paul Shekelle, chief of general internal medicine at the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center.

Dr. Wayne Jonas called the findings "disappointing," but agreed they are not the final word on cranial electrical stimulation.

"There's just not enough evidence there for us to know whether it works," said Jonas, of Samueli Integrative Health Programs, in Alexandria, Va.

Jonas wrote an editorial published with the review in the Feb. 13 online edition of Annals of Internal Medicine.

A number of CES devices are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for people to use at home, with a doctor's prescription.

However, they are easily purchased online -- on sites where they are sold second-hand, for example.

Jonas advised against that. "This is supposed to be something a doctor prescribes for you, not something you buy off the internet," he said.

And given the uncertainty around CES, Jonas said, it's important that people talk to their doctor about all of their treatment options.

Shekelle agreed. The devices themselves are powered by a 9-volt battery, he noted. The concern is not so much that CES will directly harm people.

The main worry, Shekelle said, is that people will "self-treat" with CES, and not get therapies that have good evidence to back them up.

The findings are based on an analysis of 26 clinical trials, most involving fewer than 30 patients.

Most studies tested CES against a "placebo," meaning an inactive device. A few pitted it against standard treatment.


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