Study Finds Cranial Electrical Stimulation Effective for Anxiety Relief


PLYMOUTH MEETING, PA — A clinical evidence assessment by ECRI, a global patient safety organization, found that cranial electrical stimulation (CES) can effectively relieve anxiety symptoms. The treatment outperformed placebo stimulation, with or without medication, for some patients.

CES, a noninvasive technique, uses electrodes placed on the scalp or earlobes to deliver diffuse electrical stimulation. This method aims to normalize brain activity linked to excessive fear and anxiety. Unlike electroconvulsive therapy, CES is less invasive and intended for treating anxiety rather than severe depression.

Evidence indicates that CES effects may last at least one month after treatment and potentially up to six months. Long-term responsiveness remains uncertain.

Traditional anxiety treatments include medication and psychotherapy, but these options are not universally effective. Psychotherapy can be costly and finding suitable therapists challenging. Medication can cause side effects, and some patients prefer not to take daily drugs. Two studies suggest CES might offer a more affordable alternative.

“Cranial electrical stimulation is not widely used to treat anxiety,” said Marcus Schabacker, MD, PhD, President and CEO of ECRI. “Most patients bear the full cost since it’s not covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or most private insurers. Usually, patients who have tried CES did so in research settings or after exhausting other treatments. This treatment could be more convenient than psychotherapy and scalable since it can be administered by a nurse in a clinic or by the patient at home.”

ECRI’s assessment reviewed peer-reviewed clinical literature published through mid-April 2024, including five studies involving more than 630 patients. The assessment focused on the treatment’s safety and effectiveness for anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric illnesses, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and selective mutism.

ECRI also evaluated CES for treating depression and insomnia but found insufficient evidence to determine its effectiveness for these conditions.

ECRI’s team, composed of doctoral-level researchers, helps healthcare providers, insurers, and industry leaders make evidence-based decisions on new and existing healthcare products. Their work aims to drive positive outcomes, improve care quality, and reduce costs.

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