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  • Writer's pictureSophroneo Consultant

Beyond the Blues: Navigating Treatment-Resistant Depression with TMS, Ketamine, or Spravato?

In my practice, I frequently encounter patients seeking treatment for resistant depression who question why traditional antidepressants may not be effective for them. The narrative often centers around friends and family members finding relief with medications like Prozac, Lexapro, or Zoloft, seemingly living happily ever after despite potential side effects such as weight gain, sexual problems, insomnia, fatigue, and cognitive issues.

To those individuals, I offer reassurance that they are not alone. Research indicates that up to one-third of individuals with depression do not respond to standard medications or psychotherapy. In my view, this figure may even be higher, considering those who initially respond to treatment but later find it ineffective. Moreover, some individuals cannot tolerate or dislike the effects of medication altogether.

Among the newer interventional therapies—TMS, Ketamine, and Spravato—which stands out as the best? (Electroconvulsive therapy - ECT - is a discussion for another time, given its unique place in psychiatric treatment.)

I wish I could provide a straightforward answer, but, as with many aspects of medicine and life, simplicity is still being determined. Limited comprehensive studies are comparing these treatments due to their expense and time-consuming nature. Therefore, frontline healthcare providers like myself rely on our observations and experiences with these therapies.

In my general observations, I've found that intravenous (IV) ketamine tends to work swiftly and across a broad range of patients. With greater dosing flexibility and the ability to monitor the amount administered, we can make adjustments as needed. However, its drawbacks include a lack of FDA approval for depression, limited insurance coverage, the need for IV administration, and the potential for effects to diminish without subsequent boosters.

Spravato, while similar to ketamine, is FDA-approved. It is more likely to be covered by insurance, boasts good long-term safety and effectiveness data, and adheres to specific dosing guidelines. Though my experience has shown more responses to IV ketamine, many patients fare well with Spravato, and some even tolerate or improve upon it more than IV ketamine. Downsides include less dosing flexibility, less reliable intranasal dosing, and potential expense if insurance coverage is lacking.

Lastly, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a non-medication therapy involving magnetic pulses to specific brain areas, stands out. FDA-approved and more likely to receive insurance coverage due to its longer history compared to Spravato, TMS has a robust research database supporting its safety and effectiveness. Although it takes longer to yield results (typically 4-5 weeks), the benefits appear more enduring than those of ketamine or Spravato.

In summary, I've witnessed patients respond differently to TMS, ketamine, and Spravato. Some thrive on one but not the others, and there's a growing interest in combining these therapies. While an experienced clinician can guide you on the best therapy to start with, it's essential not to dismiss any option. They all work, boast good safety profiles, and deserve consideration. The key is to take action, as help is readily available for those in need.


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