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Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) is a non-invasive procedure in which a device sends a small Direct Current (DC) across electrodes on the scalp to modulate brain function. These electrodes are placed at a region of interest, where the current induces an intra cerebral current flow. This current flow then either increases or decreases the neuronal excitability in the specific area being stimulated, based on which type of stimulation is being used. A constant, low intensity current is passed through two electrodes placed over the head which modulates neuronal activity. There are two types of stimulation with tDCS: anodal and cathodal stimulation. Anodal stimulation acts to excite neuronal activity while cathodal stimulation inhibits or reduces neuronal activity.

One of the most important aspects of tDCS is its ability to achieve cortical changes even after the stimulation is ended. The duration of this change depends on the length of stimulation as well as the intensity of stimulation. The effects of stimulation increase as the duration of stimulation increases or the strength of the current increases.

Although tDCS is still an experimental form of brain stimulation, it potentially has several advantages over other brain stimulation techniques. It is cost-effective, non-invasive, painless and safe. It is also easy to administer and the equipment is easily portable. The most common side effect of tDCS is a slight itching or tingling on the scalp.

Several studies suggest it may be a valuable tool for the treatment of neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic pain. Research has also demonstrated cognitive improvement in some patients undergoing tDCS.

Published Studies on tDCS

The scientific and academic research communities have been studying Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) for decades, with recent interest in the topic exploding over the last 10-15 years. In 2007, 2008 and 2011, the number of published studies on tDCS doubled that of the previous year. As of January 1, 2017 there are currently over 3,000 published tDCS studies on PubMed.gov, with nearly 700 (~23%) of them having been published in 2016 alone.

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