Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a non-invasive procedure used to treat a range of conditions such as depression. Under the control of a qualified clinician, TMS therapy is safe and effective with minimal risks. However, every person considering treatment should understand the advantages and possible side effects.
What is TMS therapy?
In TMS therapy, a magnetic coil is used that modifies the electrical activity of your brain. Electricity and magnetism are two fundamental physics concepts that are used in transcranial magnetic stimulation. TMS uses a magnetically active environment that influences the electrical activity of the brain and it specifically targets areas that engage in emotions and decision-making.
The frontal lobe of the brain contains nerve cells that are activated by TMS using rapidly pulsating magnetic fields. During therapy, patients are awake and in a comfortable chair with a treatment coil covering the head. Outpatient TMS treatments typically last less than an hour and are administered over a series of weeks.
What mental health conditions can TMS therapy treat?
TMS therapy can help when other treatment options are unsuccessful. The most common use for TMS is to treat depression symptoms, but it can be used for several other conditions as well including:
- Mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Chronic pain
- Neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia
- Traumatic brain injury
- Stroke rehabilitation
What are the benefits of TMS therapy?
When considering a new treatment choice, it is important to understand the pros and cons of TMS therapy. There are several benefits of TMS therapy where a pulsed magnetic field is used to activate specific parts of the brain.
TMS therapy is the least invasive way to treat depression and it does not come with the side effects that you get from medication. TMS does not require anesthetic, is non-invasive, and is well-tolerated by most patients. Outpatient care is provided, and everyday activities are unaffected.
Can be stopped at any time
While completing a full TMS treatment series offers the best outcome, patients can stop treatment at any point without adverse effects. Unlike medication where patients are gradually weaned off, TMS therapy does not pose any health risk by discontinuing treatment.
No withdrawal symptoms
TMS has no addictive qualities of any kind, in contrast to some drugs that may lead to substance abuse issues. Spread-out maintenance TMS treatments can keep depressed episodes from happening again and are not habit-forming.
TMS is a non-medicated approach for treating certain disorders. There are no restrictions on diet or lifestyle when undergoing treatment. Patients can also drive home immediately after each treatment session.
Safe for long-term use
TMS therapy is safe regardless of the number of treatments received. Although it may not be necessary to continue with TMS on a long-term basis, patients can safely undergo several treatments without worrying that it may cause memory loss or harm the brain in some way.
What are the cons/risks of TMS therapy?
Most individuals who have one or more of these side effects find that they are mild and usually disappear after a few days.
Experiencing headaches after treatments may occur and can be treated with general painkillers for symptom relief. Before starting TMS therapy, it is important for the patient to notify the doctor of any history of migraines or headaches.
Because TMS is non-systemic, any negative effects are limited to the treatment location and do not transfer to other parts of the body. So, patients may feel dizziness following therapy sessions, but this is mild and temporary.
During or after TMS treatments, some patients may have mild to moderate scalp or head discomfort. After a few therapy sessions, it typically goes away as the patient gets acclimated to it.
Some patients feel uncomfortable during or after therapy as tissues and nerves are stimulated. It may result in facial muscle twitching, which can be frustrating, but not harmful.
In which cases TMS therapy is not appropriate?
TMS therapy is offered by qualified experts who protect the patient’s safety. Speak to your doctor to find out if TMS is a good fit for you and whether any safety measures need to be taken before or during treatment. There are instances where TMS may not be suitable due to certain medical conditions.
Magnetic fields used in TMS can be harmful to persons who have metal implants, making treatment more challenging. In some cases, it may cause injury or displace the implant. Consult with an experienced TMS provider who may be able to work around your unique situation. Many of these problems may be overcome.
In very rare cases, TMS treatment could lead to a benign seizure, but the risk is very low. If you have epilepsy or take medication for seizures, discuss the safety of having TMS therapy with your doctor who may recommend another treatment method altogether.
Although there is minimal risk involved in having TMS therapy while pregnant, it should be discussed with a doctor to determine if the patient is eligible for treatment. Depending on the patient’s health, the doctor may delay treatment until after childbirth.
TMS therapy’s pros and cons show that it remains one of the safest and most effective therapies with the added advantage of very few side effects if any. TMS therapy has a high success rate with a significant improvement in depressive symptoms and full recovery from depression. TMS uses magnetic fields that safely penetrate the skull to alter brain circuits making the treatment highly localized and focused. Patients who receive TMS are awake, alert, and able to carry out their regular daily activities after treatment.
Following treatment, there are no prohibitions on driving or other restrictions of any kind and very few conditions preclude the use of TMS therapy. Consider the benefits and drawbacks of TMS and find the course of action that is most effective for you. For individuals with depression who have not experienced relief from other treatments, such as psychotherapy and medication, TMS therapy’s effectiveness is the best alternative.