Magnetic pulses may help women with post-partum depression

Psychiatry researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have had good results in early research using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to treat patients with depression. Now they are testing TMS as a potential treatment for new mothers with post-partum depression.

Keith Garcia discusses how TMS can help women with post-partum depression.

“About 80 percent of women will have something called the ‘baby blues,’ which includes minor fluctuations in energy levels and women describing themselves as being emotional, easily set to tears,” says Keith Garcia, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry. “But if this persists for more than two weeks after the delivery of the baby, and if it’s severe and involves thoughts of hurting yourself or thoughts of hurting the baby, then it needs to be addressed by a psychiatrist. It probably is post-partum depression.”

Many new moms don’t want to take antidepressant drugs because those medications may be secreted in breast milk. The investigators hope TMS might help women with post-partum depression feel better, so they can more fully enjoy bonding with their babies.

“Part of the reason that this is a good treatment for women with post-partum depression is that many of them don’t want to take medications,” Garcia says. “And TMS offers them another option for treatment.”

TMS treatment takes about an hour a day, Monday through Friday, for four weeks. The new mother sits in a chair while the TMS magnet delivers pulses to the brain through a device that is placed on the head. The preliminary results have been positive, Garcia says, and that’s good news for those new moms who feel sad but don’t want to take drugs to relieve their depression.

“Antidepressants are safe during pregnancy, and they’re probably safe during breast feeding,” says Garcia, “but it’s these sorts of fears that usually prevent women from getting treatment that they really need during this period. So, this study is really about developing new options for women. The more options that are available to women who have post-partum depression, the more likely they are to get treatment and get better.”

Washington University School of Medicine’s full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

For more information, or to volunteer for the study, call Patty Flynn at (314) 362-1839.