Magnetic pulses may treat schizophrenia patients who 'hear voices'

September 7, 2017  18:10

Researchers have found that high frequency magnetic pulses can improve "hearing of voices" condition experienced by many patients with schizophrenia.

The research presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) conference in Paris identified the area of the brain involved in the condition in some patients. 

"This is the first controlled trial to precisely determine an anatomically defined brain area where high frequency magnetic pulses can improve the hearing of voices," said lead researcher Sonia Dollfus, Professor at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Caen in France. 

Schizophrenia is a serious long-term mental health problem. People with schizophrenia experience a range of symptoms, which may include delusions, muddled thoughts and hallucinations. 

One of the best-known is hearing voices, also known as Auditory Verbal Hallucination (AVH), which around 70 per cent of people with schizophrenia experience at some point. 

These voices, may be 'heard' as having a variety of different characteristics, for example as internal or external, friendly or threatening, they may be continuously present or present only occasionally, and so on.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which uses magnetic pulses to the brain, has been suggested as a possible way of treating the hearing of voices in schizophrenia. 

However, there is a lack of controlled trials to show that TMS works effectively in treating "hearing of voices". 

The French research team worked with a small group of patients who received active TMS treatment. A control group received sham (placebo) treatment. 

The researchers interviewed the patients using a standard protocol -- the Auditory Hallucinations Rating Scale -- which revealed most of the characteristic features of the voices which they were hearing. 

The treated patients received a series of 20 Hz high-frequency magnetic pulses over two sessions a day for two days. 

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the pulses were targetted at a specific brain area in the temporal lobe, which is associated with language.

After two weeks, the patients were re-evaluated. The researchers found that 34.6 per cent of the patients being treated by TMS showed a significant response, whereas only 9.1 per cent of patients in the sham group responded.

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