Magnets and electricity are used in both conventional and unconventional medicine. In conventional medicine, small amounts of electrical energy produced by the body are measured for diagnostic reasons. For example, an electroencephalogram (EEG) records the electrical energy produced by the brain, whereas an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) detects electrical currents produced by the heart. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines use very powerful magnets to produce images of different parts of the body.
A unique therapeutic use of electrical energy has been employed recently to treat tremors in people with multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson's disease, and other neurologic disorders. In this treatment, an electrode is implanted in a brain region that controls body movements. Electrical stimulation of the electrode may significantly improve the tremor.
Magnets and electricity have many unconventional uses. Two types of electromagnetic therapy usually are considered for MS. One type of therapy, known as static magnetic therapy, uses magnets that are available as bracelets, belts, and even large mats that may be placed on a bed. The other form of therapy, known as pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, uses devices that produce pulsing magnetic fields at a specific frequency. The pulsing magnetic fields usually are weak, but some studies have used strong fields.
Multiple hypotheses exist about how magnets could produce therapeutic effects. For strong magnets placed on the spine, it has been proposed that the magnetic field alters nerve activity in the spinal cord in such a way that it decreases muscle stiffness. For weaker magnetic devices, it is often claimed that they correct disease-causing electrical imbalances in the body. For devices placed on acupuncture points, it is proposed that acupuncturelike effects occur, such as increases in the release of pain-relieving chemicals (opioids) in the body. Multiple other mechanisms have been proposed, including an alteration of the flow of electrically charged atoms (such as calcium) and changes in hormone levels and immune-system function.
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