Drug therapy more effective than electric current for depression

A new study published in the journal New England Journal of Medicine has reassured the position of antidepressant drugs as first-line treatment for depression.

According to a team of researchers, led by AndrĂ© Brunoni, a professor in the Psychiatry Department of the University of SĂŁo Paulo’s Medical School (FMUSP), transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) is significantly less effective than SSRI antidepressants for treating depressive symptoms.

The study began by evaluating 245 randomized patients, split into three groups, all of which suffer from clinical depression.
The first group received tDCS and a placebo drug; the second group received sham tDCS and the antidepressant drug escitalopram (Lexapro); lastly, the third group received sham tDCS and a placebo drug.

The patients who were subjected to tDCS treatment did so in 30-minute sessions for 15 weekdays, and then for seven sessions once a week. Meanwhile, escitalopram, an antidepressant that increases activity in the synaptic nerve ending of the neurotransmitter serotonin, was orally administered at a dosage of 10 mg per day for three weeks, with the dosage increased to 20 mg for another seven more weeks.
The results were clear: the SSRI antidepressant escitalopram did outstandingly better than tDCS treatment. In fact, patients who received the antidepressant drug were over two times more likely to have reduced depressive symptoms.
“We found that treatment with tDCS was not half as effective as treatment with escitalopram and concluded that transcranial stimulation cannot be recommended as first-line therapy,” said Brunoni, the lead researcher.
For some, tDCS was thought to be as effective as antidepressants in treating depression, given its similarity to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), both of which are entirely different procedures and should not be confused.
However, Brunoni’s team of researchers have strengthened the belief that antidepressants remain the most effective first-line treatment for depressed patients.
“I expect our study to have an impact on this phenomenon because we’ve proved there are adverse side effects and that it’s not as effective as many people think.”