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Study Shows Magnetic Forces Help Heal Brain After Strokes

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ROME) -- There's some promising news for stroke patients who suffer from hemispatial neglect: a group of Italian researchers reported on Wednesday that using magnets to stimulate the nerve cells of the brain can help remedy the condition.

The treatment is called transcranial magnetic stimulation, and happens when doctors place a large electromagnetic coil against the scalp, creating electrical currents in one part of the brain.

"The treatment is based on the theory that hemispatial neglect results when a stroke disrupts the balance between the two hemispheres of the brain.  A stroke on one side of the brain causes the other side to become overactive, and the circuits become overloaded," study author Dr. Giacomo Koch of the Santa Lucia Foundation in Rome said in a news release.

Koch and his colleagues studied whether using magnetic stimulation would help rebalance the activity on both sides of the brain. They tested 20 patients with hemispatial neglect, giving magnetic stimulation to 10 patients and a sham treatment to the other 10 patients.  After two weeks, the patients who were magnetically stimulated performed 16 percent better on tests measuring their behavioral inattention, and their test scores improved by 23 percent after one month.  The patients with the sham treatment showed no improvement.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

Even without treatment, patients can recover from hemispatial neglect after a few weeks.  But Dr. Randolph Marshall, chief of the stroke division of Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said the first few weeks of progress after a stroke, which are vital in a patient's overall recovery, can be derailed by the condition.

"The weakness they have from the stroke may be harder to rehabilitate because they can't pay attention to that weak limb," Marshall said. "Recovery will be delayed and potentially less robust if they're unable to participate fully and take advantage of their returning strength."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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