Background: Cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) is a noninvasive procedure that has been used for decades in the United States to treat anxiety, depression, and insomnia in the general population. Whether CES is an effective treatment for patients with a DSM-IV diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has not previously been explored. The goal of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of CES in alleviating anxiety in patients with DSM-IV-diagnosed GAD.
Method: Twelve patients from 29 to 58 years of age with a DSM-IV diagnosis of GAD were enrolled from August 2005 to March 2006 through the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Anxiety Disorders Program. Cranial electrotherapy stimulation treatment was administered for 6 weeks using the Alpha-Stim Stress Control System at 0.5-Hz frequency and 300-muA intensity. The primary efficacy measures were the Hamilton Rating Scale for Anxiety (HAM-A) and the Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement (CGI-I) scale. Response to treatment was defined as a reduction of 50% or more on the HAM-A and a CGI-I score of 1 or 2 ("much improved" or "very much improved," respectively).
Results: Cranial electrotherapy stimulation was associated with a significant decrease in HAM-A scores (t = 3.083, p = .01). At endpoint, 6 patients (50% of the intent-to-treat sample and 67% of completers) had a 50% decrease in HAM-A score and a CGI-I score of 1 or 2. One additional patient significantly improved in anxiety scores but did not meet criteria for response. Adverse events were generally mild in severity, mostly consisting of headache and nausea.
Conclusion: This preliminary study suggests that CES may reduce symptoms of anxiety in GAD. We hope that these preliminary results will encourage further research to explore the use of CES in clinical settings.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00539357.