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Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation Reduces MS Fatigue

October 3, 2017

Non-invasive brain stimulation reduces fatigue in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, concludes a study by researchers at New York University (NYU).

Their study, “Remotely supervised transcranial direct current stimulation for the treatment of fatigue in multiple sclerosis: Results from a randomized, sham-controlled trial,” appeared in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

Fatigue is one the most disabling symptoms of MS, affecting roughly 75 percent of people with the disease. Doctors often prescribe drugs to treat narcolepsy, as well as behavior-based treatments and exercise programs, but their benefits have not been consistent.

“Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms affecting quality of life for MS patients, and practitioners have lacked good treatment options,” Dr. Lauren Krupp, the study’s senior author and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at NYU Langone Health, said in a press release.

This led scientists to study a technique of brain stimulation called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which had shown positive results in earlier neurology studies, including improvements of cognitive symptoms in MS.

In tDCS, doctors place electrodes on the scalp via a headset to apply a low-amplitude electrical current at the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — a brain region believed to play a role in fatigue and cognitive symptoms. The technique has been proven safe and tolerable.

The NYU study randomly assigned 27 MS patients to receive either tDCS (15 patients) or placebo (12 patients). Patients got treatment while playing a cognitive game directed at the brain’s processing speed and working memory. Sessions lasted 20 minutes each and took place five days a week, at patients’ homes.

Participants reported their level of fatigue after 20 sessions, using a scale known as the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) that grades fatigue on a score of up to 32. A higher score correlates with more fatigue. The results showed a significant 5.6-point drop with tDCS, compared to a 0.9 point increase in the placebo group.