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Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) therapy is associated with a decrease in seizure frequency in partial-onset seizure patients. Initial trials suggest that it may be an effective treatment, with few side-effects, for intractable depression.
An open, uncontrolled European multi-centre study (D03) of VNS therapy was conducted, in addition to stable pharmacotherapy, in 74 patients with treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Treatment remained unchanged for the first 3 months; in the subsequent 9 months, medications and VNS dosing parameters were altered as indicated clinically.
The baseline 28-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD-28) score averaged 34. After 3 months of VNS, response rates (⩾50% reduction in baseline scores) reached 37% and remission rates (HAMD-28 score <10) 17%. Response rates increased to 53% after 1 year of VNS, and remission rates reached 33%. Response was defined as sustained if no relapse occurred during the first year of VNS after response onset; 44% of patients met these criteria. Median time to response was 9 months. Most frequent side-effects were voice alteration (63% at 3 months of stimulation) and coughing (23%).
VNS therapy was effective in reducing severity of depression; efficacy increased over time. Efficacy ratings were in the same range as those previously reported from a USA study using a similar protocol; at 12 months, reduction of symptom severity was significantly higher in the European sample. This might be explained by a small but significant difference in the baseline HAMD-28 score and the lower number of treatments in the current episode in the European study.
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