SILVER SPRING – A non-invasive treatment designed to help people deal with obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, is available locally after being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about a year ago.
OCD is a type of mental illness in which people have either obsessive thoughts and urges or compulsive, repetitive behaviors. It can cause a person to shy away from people for fear of physical contact or it can cause frightening thoughts that bad things are about to happen.
Some people experiencing OCD may insist on washing their hands constantly. Others may be too scared to drive, because they have envisioned any accident they will cause.
Medicine and therapy are helpful but are not forever. Nor do they relieve the symptoms for every patient, explained Dr. Misty Borst, medical director at Greenbrook TMS. She works in their Columbia offices, while the company has offices in Rockville, Olney, Kensington and elsewhere throughout Maryland and the United States.
Deep TMS stands for “transcranial magnetic stimulation” which involves magnetic pulses that are sent through a patient’s skull and skin and into the brain’s nerve cells.
The pulses to the brain target problem areas with its coil, Borst said.
As OCD involves what she referred to as “problematic circulatory” brain functions, the machine works to modulate the problems.
Technology that involves electrical and magnetic pulses has been around for a long time, Borst said. But it is only recently that it has been available to be able to help those with OCD, she said.
The helmet is made by Brainsway. It is best used by people who have tried medications and received only partial alleviation of their symptoms, at best.
Before a person can use the helmet, medical personnel interview them about their symptoms, general health and the way they have dealt with their OCD in the past.
If a doctor believes they would be a good candidate, they are told to come into the office five days a week for six weeks to undergo a 20-minute treatment each time.
“It sounds daunting,” Borst said. but it is not intimidating, she insisted.
Since patients are not sedated, they can receive the treatment and be out of the office in half an hour, she said.
Patients just sit in a chair and place their head in the helmet, which looks like hair dryers in professional salons.
Patients will hear a clicking noise, which they sometimes describe as a tapping.
As the amount and location of the pulses are individually tailored for each patient, the intensity of the sound varies, Borst said.
Deep TMS is helpful, but, “It’s not going to cure the disease forever,” she said.
After going through the treatment, about 50% of users experienced about a 30% reduction in symptoms.
Side effects are minimum, she said, noting that some people do get a headache, which can be relieved through over-the-counter medication.
Borst said she considered that a good success rate considering that, “OCD can be incredibly hard to treat.”
According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 1.2% of Americans have OCD. Among adults, slightly more women than men are affected.