Researching the Hope for tDCS Montages and Anxiety
Anxiety can be a debilitating condition that often requires a lifetime of medication and therapy to overcome. Many people are turning to alternative treatments to reduce their reliance on potentially addictive and deadly medications. This guide reviews some studies that may provide hope for tDCS as a potential way to help manage symptoms.
Disclaimer: tDCS has not yet been proven to help anxiety and the following research is not suggesting in any way that it does. The studies below are merely an indication of hope that a tDCS anxiety montage might potentially help individuals manage their symptoms. tDCS has not been cleared or approved by the FDA for the treatment of anxiety.
Table of Contents
- What is an Anxiety Disorder?
- Treatment Options for Anxiety
- Alternative Treatment Options
- Does tDCS Help with Anxiety?
- Where Should tDCS Electrodes be Placed?
- What to Know About tDCS
- The Bottom Line
What is an Anxiety Disorder?
An anxiety disorder is a condition that makes a person feel anxious in situations most people wouldn't, such as when encountering certain environments or stimuli that cause irrational fear. It's natural for everyone to feel a fight or flight response when in danger or under stress, but people suffering from anxiety disorders experience these feelings frequently. Uncontrolled anxiety can be debilitating and keep people from leading happy, productive lives.
There are several types of anxiety disorders. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common anxiety disorder associated with trauma, such as physical or sexual assault, combat experiences or serious accidents. Some people experience social anxiety, which makes it difficult for them to make interpersonal connections and trust other people.
In severe cases, anxiety can lead to insomnia, hypervigilance, the inability to leave home, and panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden feeling of doom or despair accompanied by a rapid heartbeat, intense sweating and a feeling of faintness. People who suffer from panic attacks may fear the next one and avoid places or situations they associate with past incidents.
People with anxiety often suffer from accompanying conditions such as depression and substance abuse disorders. This can result in a destructive cycle of depression, drug or alcohol use, and anxiety that requires psychological treatment and/or medication.
Treatment Options for Anxiety
There are two primary treatment strategies for people who suffer from anxiety disorders. First, a psychiatrist may prescribe an antidepressant or antianxiety medication to offer some immediate relief. Patients are then treated with psychotherapy, which involves speaking with a psychologist or psychiatrist about the root causes of their anxiety.
During these sessions, patients might be slowly exposed to the things they fear in order to desensitize them so they can encounter their fears in the real world without being overwhelmed by anxiety. They are taught exercises and coping skills that can be used when they feel they're about to experience an anxiety or panic attack. These treatment methods have varying degrees of effectiveness, however, and it may require years of therapy and continuous medication to treat an anxiety disorder.
Sometimes, the medications prescribed for an anxiety disorder can exacerbate the condition or cause severe side effects. Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used for anxiety disorders that may cause dependence and can interact with alcohol and other prescription medications. When combined with antidepressants, these medications can easily cause overdoses.
Many people also fear becoming addicted to their anxiety medications or suffering from uncomfortable side effects and drug interactions. This is why alternative treatment options are becoming more popular.
There are several technologies that people are turning to in order to help manage their symptoms without depending solely on medication. These include Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES), Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). Each of these technologies uses electrical impulses to stimulate specifically targeted areas for the purpose of improving mood, helping people relax or fall asleep, reducing the perception of pain or interrupting signals in the brain to reduce anxiety. CES devices are FDA cleared for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia.
Does tDCS Help with Anxiety?
We should be clear that tDCS is not approved by the FDA for the treatment of anxiety. There's not currently enough research on tDCS to determine yet whether it's a viable treatment option for anxiety, but the results of several small studies have been promising. For example, in one study involving 18 patients with anxiety disorders, the anode was placed on the contralateral deltoid and the cathode placed on the prefrontal cortex over the course of ten treatments. The patients reported that their symptoms weren't as severe following the treatments with this tDCS anxiety montage.
Another study monitored 96 people who underwent a single treatment. This time, the anode was placed over the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and the cathode was placed just above the opposing eye socket. During this study, the subjects reported feeling a reduction of fear, anxiety, and/or sadness compared to before the treatment. Another study of 19 women who suffered from social anxiety produced similar results when the anode was placed on their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the cathode was placed on their arm.
The results of these studies offer hope to patients suffering from anxiety disorders, but the small sample sizes don't make them sufficient to prove that tDCS therapy works for most people. And again, FDA clearance and approval has not been granted to tDCS for anxiety. A couple of studies showed conflicting results as well, suggesting that not everyone who undergoes treatment can benefit in the same way. The various studies didn't use the same tDCS anxiety montage, either, so researchers are still determining which locations produce the most optimistic results.
The above studies in no way offer or claim to prove that tDCS is an effective treatment for anxiety. Consult the studies linked in this post for more details.
Where Should tDCS Electrodes be Placed?
Before using a tDCS machine, it's important to know where to mount the electrodes for the greatest effect. Because tDCS technology has not yet been approved or cleared by the FDA, we cannot provide instructions on how to use these devices. Third-party apps are available that provide the correct mounting locations and additional instructions.
You can use our tDCS anxiety montage guide when reviewing the instructions to pinpoint where to place the electrodes. This guide identifies the key parts of your brain as they relate to the numbers and letters on the chart. For example, F8 is located on the frontal lobe in the right hemisphere, while Fz is in the center of the frontal lobe.
The most important locations to note are the inion, nasion, and right and left tragus. If you locate these positions, you can find Cz, which is perfectly located above the centre of the brain at the top of your skull. All other positions on the tDCS montage chart are relative to this position.
What to Know About tDCS
Many people are investigating alternative treatment options for conditions like anxiety because they don't want to become dependent on medications for the rest of their lives. Alternatively, they may not want to endure some of the more severe side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. While tDCS technology has given many people hope that they can manage their symptoms without medications, it bears repeating that the FDA has not yet approved or cleared these devices, and current research doesn't offer definitive proof that they alleviate the symptoms of anxiety.
The Bottom Line
While some people claim that tDCS technology helps them manage their symptoms, results may vary from one person to another. Researchers are still exploring ways to use tDCS both safely and effectively. We highly suggest you speak with your doctor before attempting any alternative remedy so that your progress may be monitored. Scientists are investing a lot of time towards current studies and discovering new information about tDCS and its viability. You can follow our newsletter to stay up to date with the latest studies and revelations as well as industry developments and new products.
Disclaimer: tDCS is still in the experimental stages of development. While the research cited above offers hope for tDCS to help many people suffering from anxiety manage their symptoms, it in no way claims that tDCS is an effective cure or treatment for anxiety disorders.
Do you still have questions about neuromodulation devices, or do you need help to decide which one is best for you? Contact one of our neuromodulation experts.