Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a new treatment option that works to ease depression in patients who have not responded well to traditional treatment methods. TMS therapy is administered through an FDA-approved device that is placed against the scalp and near the forehead, in order to stimulate the prefrontal cortex responsible for mood regulation.
TMS is a non-invasive in-office procedure, lasting as little as 3 minutes, depending on the frequency, intensity, and range of stimulation needed. No post-treatment recovery time is required and patients are able to return to daily functions immediately following a session.
TMS is an effective alternative to managing a patient’s depression symptoms in that it offers the same amount of benefits without the side effects associated with other treatment options.
How TMS Treatment Works
Unlike other forms of brain stimulation such as electroconvulsive therapy, TMS does not require surgery, sedation, anesthesia, or the implantation of electrodes, and does not affect one’s memory or cognition. Additionally, instead of electric currents, TMS therapy works off of the same type of magnetic energy pulses used in MRI machines to safely activate areas of the brain that control one’s mood.
Patients have reported fewer side effects from TMS than those experienced as a result of medication. Whereas antidepressants circulate throughout the bloodstream, affecting other areas of the body, TMS is a non-systemic form of depression treatment. The most common side effects of TMS therapy are minimal and may include headaches as well as some scalp discomfort during or after treatment. These side effects are mild to moderate and generally improve over time with each session.
For optimal results, subsequent rounds of TMS treatment are usually recommended and consist of daily sessions for several weeks. When delivered at regular intervals, this treatment is referred to as repetitive TMS (rTMS). Deep TMS is another type of TMS therapy that covers a larger and deeper area of the brain and often requires shorter, less frequent sessions. Many patients notice a change in mood after a few weeks of treatment.
Before receiving TMS treatment, patients sit in a comfortable chair and are given earplugs while a physician maps out the best possible placement of the machine. Patients may hear clicking sounds as the machine produces stimulating pulses. The appropriate frequency and dose of magnetic energy can be adjusted depending on one’s symptoms and side effects. Many patients report long-lasting relief from depression as a result of TMS Therapy. If a patient’s symptoms improve, ongoing or maintenance treatment options should be considered in addition to other standard forms of depression treatment.