New Possibilities in the Treatment of Auditory Hallucinations
> 10/29/2007 12:32:55 PM

Auditory hallucinations are one of the most frightening symptoms experienced by the mentally ill. The perception of sounds or voices not caused by an external stimulus, these hallucinations can be invasive and disturbing, can occur almost  constantly, and are very difficult to treat. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is one of the latest treatments being studied by researchers. While studies have shown that it can diminish auditory hallucinations, more research is necessary to improve our understanding of auditory hallucinations and how TMS affects them.

TMS, a noninvasive technique developed by Dr. Ralph E. Hoffman, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University, involves a metal coil which is placed on the patientís scalp and oscillated at a particular frequency to produce an electro-magnetic field. This field can be concentrated on a specific section of the brain and rarely causes adverse side effects, although cognitive impairments and seizures could potentially occur. In their first study on the effectiveness of TMS in treating auditory hallucinations, Hoffman and his team studied 12 patients who experienced auditory hallucinations daily. The researchers alternated between giving the patients TMS and a false treatment, where the scalp but not the brain was stimulated. The patients received the treatments for 4 to 16 minutes a day for 4 days. TMS reduced the severity of auditory hallucinations compared to the false treatments in patients who had had at least 12 minutes of daily treatment, and the best results were seen in those who were treated for 16 minutes. Relief of auditory hallucinations was short-lived, however, lasting from one day to three weeks. A second study, also headed by Hoffman, included 50 patients who were treated with either TMS or the false treatment. They received the treatment for 16 minutes a day for 9 days. Half of the patients experienced at least a 50% improvement in auditory hallucinations, and most experienced improvements for at least three months.

Auditory hallucinations affect 60-80% of those with schizophrenia and 10-15% of those with mood disorders, and in many cases, antipsychotic medications have no effect on them. Though TMS does not currently result in long-lasting relief and could also result in adverse side effects, these studies still provide promising results. Further studies should give the researchers a better understanding of how different regions of the brain are involved in auditory hallucinations, as well as allowing them to refine and improve TMS treatments. With continued research, we may soon be able to help those who suffer from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses to live their lives without the distressing experience of hearing voices.

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