Whole-body hyperthermia is a promising antidepressant modality that works quickly and offers prolonged benefit, according to a study recently published in the online JAMA Psychiatry.
Researchers came to that conclusion after conducting a double-blind study that randomized 30 adults with major depressive disorder to either a single session of active whole-body hyperthermia or a sham treatment that mimicked all aspects of whole-body hyperthermia except its intense heat.
The sham condition was included to strengthen the study design.
“A prior open trial found that a single session of whole-body hyperthermia reduced depressive symptoms,” researchers wrote. “However, the lack of a placebo control raises the possibility that the observed antidepressant effects resulted not from hyperthermia per se, but from nonspecific aspects of the intervention.”
Among participants randomized to sham treatment in the new study, more than 70% believed they had received whole-body hyperthermia, researchers reported, suggesting the placebo was convincing.
When researchers looked at participants’ scores on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale throughout the 6-week period following the session, they found participants who received active whole-body hyperthermia had significantly reduced scores compared to participants who received sham treatment. Adverse events were mild.
Psych Congress Steering Committee member Charles L. Raison, MD, discussed the findings prior to their publication during a session at last year’s U.S. Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress in San Diego.
“Like ketamine, like scopolamine, and other rapid treatments for depression that are of intense interest in psychiatry, hyperthermia shows the same effect,” he said. “It doesn’t take a week or 2 to work. People feel better very, very quickly, and the effects appear to persist for an extended period of time.”
– Jolynn Tumolo
Janssen CW, Lowry CA, Mehl MR, et al. Whole-body hyperthermia for the treatment of major depressive disorder: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016 May 12. [Epub ahead of print].
Lebano L. New data support whole body hyperthermia for rapid treatment of major depression. Psych Congress Network. 2015 Sept. 10.