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Valley hospital using strong magnets to treat debilitating depression

PHOENIX – Phoenix-based Banner Health is now offering an innovative treatment for debilitating depression that uses powerful magnets to activate nerve cells in the brain.

The outpatient procedure, called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), is painless and doesn’t require sedation, Banner said in a press release.

Depression, which affects approximately 10 percent of the population, can be caused by chemical changes or imbalances in the brain, Dr. Gagandeep Singh, chief medical officer at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.

“Any time you are trying to treat these conditions, you’re looking for ways to help modulate or reset those circuits in the brain,” Singh said.

Treatments such as medication and shock treatment affect the entire brain, Singh said, but TMS targets specific pathways.

“What we can do is we can use a really strong magnet that repeatedly comes on and off, and we can place it over certain parts of the brain,” he said.

“Because that magnetic field then interacts with the neurons or the electrical field in that area, it can help reset those areas within the brain.”

Singh said TMS is an option when medication or psychotherapy aren’t effective.

“It is still a specialized treatment. … We’re still treating people with standard treatments, and only if they’re not responding to standard treatments are we offering TMS,” he said.

For now, TMS is available at two Banner locations, Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale and University Medical Center South in Tucson.

Singh said the procedure is offered at other facilities in Arizona, but Banner is the state’s only TMS provider affiliated with a university.

The procedure first gained federal approval about 10 years ago, Singh said.

“It’s just been slow to come into regular usage, and it’s been relatively slow to come into where all insurances and such will pay for it,” he said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ayano Nagaishi contributed to this report.

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