What is TMS?

 

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy is a method of brain stimulation used to treat patients with medication-resistant depression by emitting localized electromagnetic pulses to the brain. By emitting localized electromagnetic pulses to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex a patient’s nerve cells are stimulated to improve the symptoms of depression. The procedure is FDA-cleared, non-invasive, and generally well tolerated. A typical treatment plan lasts four to eight weeks depending on the patient’s response. The procedure is performed daily in sessions of about 30-60 minutes. Patients can resume regular activities immediately after each session.

How does TMS work?

 

During the procedure a powerful electromagnet is placed over an area of the brain associated with mood regulation. Magnetic pulses are then delivered consecutively to stimulate nerves and depolarize superficial cortical neurons in the brain. TMS treatment requires no surgery or sedation of any kind and patients can resume regular activity immediately after each treatment session.

Is TMS a good alternative for patients unable to tolerate the side effects associated with antidepressant medications?

Yes. TMS has none of the systemic side effects produced by antidepressant medications, such as weight gain, sexual problems, or sedation.

 

Like any treatment, TMS has certain risks. Although it is generally well tolerated, some patients report mild to moderate discomfort from the electromagnetic pulses. This discomfort is reported as headaches, scalp pain, and a tapping sensation on the head. However, fewer than 5% of patients discontinue treatment because of side effects. TMS therapy is not for everyone. Speak with your doctor to see if TMS is right for you.

How is TMS different from antidepressant medications?

Medications and TMS both affect electrochemical signaling between neurons in the brain, but they achieve results in different ways. The biggest difference is that medications are pharmaceutical drugs circulated in the bloodstream. In contrast, TMS therapy is a procedure localized to a small target area on the scalp.

 

TMS works by stimulating brain cells in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, prompting the electrical signal to travel through the neuron to its synapse and trigger the release of neurotransmitters across the synaptic cleft. The more neurotransmitters are released into the synaptic cleft, the more receptor sites are needed on the receiving synapse. As a result, neurons begin to develop more connections with each other. As the stimulation is repeated, the rate of electrical signaling increases and this neuronal activity eventually becomes self-sustaining.

Is TMS similar to other therapies that use magnets to treat illnesses?

 

No. TMS therapy is an FDA-cleared treatment for depression that uses medical devices capable of generating powerful magnetic fields. These devices deliver specifically calibrated electromagnetic currents to targeted regions of the brain. These electromagnetic pulses are more similar to those of an MRI. These magnetic fields, when applied to the brain, activate brain cells. Please note that many years of research and development went into moving this technology forward. Also, the effects of TMS cannot be accomplished with ordinary or household magnets.

How similar is TMS to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

Electroconvulsive therapy, or “shock therapy,” is a considerably more intense treatment in which seizures are intentionally induced to treat depression. Patients undergoing ECT must receive general anesthesia and muscle relaxers to prevent the seizures from causing injury. Furthermore, ECT requires a significant amount of recovery time and patients are often put under close observation after treatment. Potential side effects of ECT include confusion and memory loss.

 

In contrast, TMS is a much safer procedure administered without any sedation. A typical session lasts 30-60 minutes and most patients do not report any discomfort. Patients can resume regular activity immediately after each treatment session. TMS is generally well tolerated, although some patients do report mild to moderate discomfort.

How long is a TMS treatment plan?

 

While treatments plans vary from patient to patient, TMS therapy easily fits into most daily routines without major disruption. A typical course of treatment lasts four to eight weeks depending on the patient’s response. The procedure is performed daily in sessions of about 30-60 minutes and patients can resume regular activities immediately after each session.

Does TMS cause any side effects?

Since TMS does not circulate through the bloodstream, it is not associated with the common side effects of antidepressant medications such as dry mouth, upset stomach, dizziness, drowsiness, weight gain, or sexual dysfunction. Some patients report mild to moderate discomfort during the procedure, but these effects are temporary.

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