New treatment for anxiety disorders

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– There has been a breakthrough approach for treating anxiety and it actually requires no medication. But it’s not quite ready for everybody.

The study targets people with general anxiety disorder. It’s estimated 150,000 people in our state have it. Medication and counseling are what’s prescribed for treatment but the researchers say that only works for half of the patients. That’s why the outcome of this clinical trial will have a far reaching impact.

Researchers at Institute of Living are targeting the so called ‘worry circuit’ of the brain in this Phase I clinical trial for people with generalized anxiety disorder or GAD.

“This worry circuit is over-active with people with over-anxiety, once they start worrying, it doesn’t stop,” said Dr. Gretchen Diefenbach, Institute Of Living/Hartford Hospital.

Dr. Gretchen Diefenbach is lead investigator of the Transcranial Magentic Stimulation or TMS study for anxiety. Already approved for treating depression, TMS delivers magnetic pulses on the scalp.

“This magnetic pulse changes the electrical activity of the brain region underneath,” said Diefenbach.

Through neuro-navigation, using MRI images they are better able to pinpoint the location to stimulate, which is in a different spot in each person.

“We decided looking at all the evidence, that the right has more promise,” said Neuroscientist Dr. Michal Assaf, Institute Of Living/Hartford Hospital. “So by stimulating the area so specifically and exactly for each person, we are hoping the effect of the treatment will be much stronger.”

The more personalized approach could be effective for patients like Terry.

“In its worst form, I can have a full blown panic attack. I’d have to go to the hospital,” said Terry.

The 24-year-old has had limited success with medication.

“I basically didn’t leave the house for the better part of six or seven years.  So I’m really hoping this will really do something for me,” said Terry.

More importantly he says decreasing the physical symptoms of his anxiety.

“Because that makes it a lot harder to work yourself through the mental issues if you’re shaking or pacing or anything like that. It’s very hard to calm yourself down,” said Terry.

Already there are promising early results.

“We’re having people report their symptoms are improving,” said Diefenbach.

And they found by measuring the area stimulated it was linked to improved brain function visibly more effective among patients randomly assigned for TMS compared to the placebo group with no activity.

“It’s active more, it’s like more engaged.  It’s doing what its suppose to do a little more,” said Assaf. “And we can see that this is related to the symptom change in the patient.”

They are still looking for more people to take part in the trial. You can call 860-545-7386 for more information or go to their website.

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