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Electrical brain stimulation can ease heartbreak, study finds
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Electrical brain stimulation can ease heartbreak, study finds

Breaking up, as the Neil Sedaka hit goes, is hard to do. The emotional pain of a romantic split can be so severe it has its own clinical name – love trauma syndrome, or LTS.

But help could be at hand for those seeking to mend a broken heart. Research shows wearing a £400 headset for just a few minutes a day may ease the misery, negativity and depression that can accompany a failed relationship.

In a study, 36 volunteers with love trauma syndrome wore the device, which stimulates the brain with a mild electrical current.

The volunteers were split into three groups, each wearing the transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) headsets for 20 minutes, twice a day over five days. In one group, the current was aimed at the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). In another, it was aimed at the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC). In the third, the headset was switched off.

Both regions targeted are involved in voluntary emotion regulation. Previous neuroimaging studies suggest there is a neuropsychological link between breakup experiences and bereavements, and that specific prefrontal regions are involved, the study said.

LTS can cause emotional distress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, obsessive thoughts, and a greater risk of suicide, as well as feelings of insecurity, helplessness and guilt.

The study, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, concluded that for LTS symptoms, DLPFC stimulation was more efficient than VLPFC stimulation.

“Both DLPFC and VLPFC protocols significantly reduced LTS symptoms, and improved depressive state and anxiety after the intervention, as compared with the sham group,” concluded researchers from the University of Zanjan in Iran and Bielefeld University in Germany. “The improving effect of the DLPFC protocol on love trauma syndrome was significantly larger than that of the VLPFC protocol.”

A month after the treatment stopped, volunteers still felt better. The study’s authors said: “These promising results require replication in larger trials.”

In recent years, techniques such as tDCS have been introduced to clinical research. Pilot studies on the NHS are reportedly testing similar headsets to see if they can help treat mild depression.

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“Since negative emotions dominate after the failure of an emotional relationship and emotional dysregulation occurs, emotion regulation is considered as the main treatment goal. Although effective treatment approaches such as cognitive-behavioural therapy do exist, innovative and complementary treatment approaches are valuable, because those treatments do not work in all patients,” the study said.

“Considering the relation between love trauma and emotional regulation, which is associated with activation of specific brain areas and networks treatment methods tackling the involved brain areas might be promising.”

Source: theguardian.com