Pacemakers -- for Anxiety
Anxiety -- the Nerve
Reason for Hope continued...
A new study will compare VNS to other treatments for
depression, and to no treatment. In the meantime, its apparent success with
depression whets his appetite for trying the therapy with other mood disorders,
George says he believes there is even more reason to believe
that VNS will be successful in treating anxiety because of the critical
interaction between physical responses in the body -- for instance, heart rate
and muscle spasms -- and the experience of fear or panic in the brain. That
entire interaction occurs through the vagus nerve.
"It makes a lot of sense that you could change that
interaction by manipulating the information through stimulation of the
vagus," George says.
Because VNS requires surgical implantation, it is far more
invasive than other electrical stimulation techniques, such as ECT or
transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which don't require cutting the body.
And it is not cheap: The device and surgery cost approximately $20,000.
Other psychiatrists are intrigued by the success of VNS in
depression, but say its practical use as a treatment remains to be seen.
Richard Weiner, MD, leads the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on
"It's an invasive technique," Weiner tells WebMD.
"You need to have some justification for using it. It's never going to be
something people run to do first. The issue is, once you have gone through a
trial of medications, at what point do you use this?"
For Gray Scott, participating in George's study was a chance to
try a cutting-edge treatment that could prove a permanent solution to the
anxiety plaguing her for nearly a decade. If it doesn't work, Scott says she
will have the device removed. If it does, she will leave it in
"It's a lot to undergo," she says. "But for people
who are becoming desperate because they are not significantly relieved by
medication, it's good to know you can actively try something instead of sitting