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Benefits and risks

Benefits and risks

When NICE looked at the evidence, it decided that there is not much good evidence about how well transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for depression works. The 7 studies that NICE looked at involved a total of about 2000 patients.

Generally, they showed the following benefits:

  • an improvement in symptoms of depression with tDCS, when used (for 6 weeks) alone or with an antidepressant medicine

  • a response lasting for up to 6 months in people who improved with initial treatment.

The studies showed that the risks of tDCS included:

  • mania or hypomania due to treatment (6 episodes)

  • damage to the skin of the scalp, which healed without scars about 1–3 weeks after treatment ended

  • skin redness 2 weeks after treatment in up to 25% of patients

  • a burning sensation reported in about 9% of studies, itching in about 39% and tingling in about 22%

  • headache in up to 19% of patients

  • light‑headedness in 40% of patients when tDCS was given weekly and in 17% when it was given every 2 weeks

  • sleepiness in 16% and tiredness in 10% of patients

  • blurred vision in 7% of patients when tDCS was given weekly and in 11% when it was given every 2 weeks

  • nausea in 10% of patients when tDCS was given weekly and in 6% when tDCS was given every 2 weeks

  • 1 report of panic attacks.

NICE was also told about another possible risk: 'flashing lights' when stimulation is applied at the front of the brain.

If you want to know more about the studies, see the guidance. Ask your health professional to explain anything you don't understand.

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