tDCS in treating stress-related mental health disorders

Acceptability of tDCS in treating stress-related mental health disorders: a mixed methods study among military patients and caregivers.

BACKGROUND: Noninvasive brain stimulation techniques like transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) offer potential new approaches to treat stress-related mental health disorders. While the acceptability of tDCS as a treatment tool plays a crucial role in its development and implementation, little is known about tDCS acceptability for users in mental healthcare, especially in the context of stress-related disorders.
METHODS: Using a mixed-methods approach, we investigated tDCS acceptability among 102 active duty and post-active military patients with stress-related symptoms (posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and impulsive aggression) who participated in a 5-session tDCS intervention. Quantitative dropout and adverse effects data was collected for all patients involved in the sham-controlled tDCS intervention. We additionally explored perspectives on the acceptability of tDCS treatment via a theory-based semi-structured interview. A subgroup of patients as well as their caregivers were interviewed to include the views of both patients and mental healthcare professionals.
RESULTS: Quantitative outcomes showed minimal tDCS-related adverse effects (mild itching or burning sensations on the scalp) and high tDCS treatment adherence (dropout rate: 4% for active tDCS, 0% for sham). The qualitative outcomes showed predominantly positive attitudes towards tDCS interventions for stress-related disorders, but only as complementary to psychotherapy. Remarkably, despite the perception that sufficient explanation was provided, patients and caregivers stressed that tDCS treatment comprehension was limited and should improve. Also, the travel associated with frequent on-site tDCS sessions may produce a significant barrier to care for patients with stress-related disorders and active-duty military personnel.
CONCLUSIONS: Acceptability numbers and perspectives from military patients and caregivers suggest that tDCS is an acceptable complementary tool in the treatment of stress-related disorders. Critically, however, if tDCS is to be used beyond scientific studies, adequately educating users on tDCS working mechanisms is vital to further improve its acceptability. Also, the perceived potential barrier to care due to frequent travel may favor home-based tDCS solutions.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: The tDCS intervention was part of a sham-controlled trial registered on 05-18-2016 at the Netherlands Trial Register with ID NL5709 .

PMID: 33588798 [PubMed – in process]

BMC Psychiatry. 2021 Feb 15;21(1):97

Authors: Smits FM, de Kort GJ, Geuze E




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