What is TMS Therapy?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a treatment option for patients with depression that doctors sometimes utilize when medication and therapy do not work well. The painless and safe procedure uses electromagnets to stimulate the brain strategically.

Patients sometimes feel unsure or uneasy about TMS because it sounds invasive and painful. However, TMS does not require any surgery or puncturing of the skin. Furthermore, it does not hurt, and patients experience mild or no side effects. As with all medical decisions, mental health professionals do not recommend TMS unless the potential benefits to the patient outweigh any risks.

Some patients get nervous about TMS because it sounds like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It’s important to understand that TMS is safer and has fewer side effects than ECT. When TMS doesn’t work for patients, they sometimes need ECT.

How New is TMS?

Researchers first began studying TMS and mental health in 1985. The more scientists learned about how each part of the brain functioned in healthy minds, the more they started to understand that stimulating specific areas could alter mood and even treat mental health disorders.

As with all medical treatments, TMS did not immediately become available to the public. Instead, researchers followed to correct protocols to understand the potential benefits of TMS and any side effects that patients may experience.

After developers proved their case, the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008 as a treatment for depression. In the years since TMS has become a reliably effective way to help patients with persistent depression.

Can TMS Treat Other Disorders?

Although TMS is primarily a treatment for depression, researchers hope to use it to treat anxiety, ADHD, schizophrenia, chronic pain, migraines, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Types of TMS

Researchers have developed several different types of TMS. In the traditional TMS procedure, the machine sends a singular, continuous signal to the brain, which works best for some patients. In Repetitive TMS (rTMS), the brain receives several electromagnetic signals that go on-and-off quickly. Finally, Deep TMS (dTMS) send the signals approximately four centimeters inside the brain, which is significantly deeper than the first two kinds of TMS penetrate.

How TMS Therapy Works

Mental health professionals have come to understand that each section of the brain controls unique functions. A few different parts of the mind control emotion and cause disorders like depression.

When patients live with depression, certain parts of the brain experience less activity than they do in healthy minds. It’s not always clear whether the decrease in activity causes the depression or the disorder causes the lower levels.

Researchers believe that the electromagnetic signals in TMS stimulate the parts of the brain that the machine targets and excites the nerves in these areas. As such, the mind has more activity in these areas, which provide relief to patients.

Over the course of the full TMS treatment, the brain rewires these pathways. These specific areas start to become more active, even without TMS. Patients can experience remission of their symptoms.

What Happens During TMS?

The TMS machine produces a magnetic field that surrounds the patient’s head while the electromagnetic waves stimulate the nerves. The electromagnetic signals are very much like those in MRI machines. So patients who can tolerate MRIs typically do well in TMS.

In order to facilitate this process, a trained medical doctor places an electromagnetic coil close to the forehead and just touching the scalp. When the machine turns on, it sends the signal to the targeted areas of the brain. The type of TMS determines how deep the signals go and if they are continuous or repeating.

Patients do not need to do anything, do not experience pain, and do not need anesthesia. Some people receive their treatments on their lunch breaks.

How Long does TMS Last?

Patients typically undergo TMS for 30 to 60 minutes, five times per week for up to six weeks. The exact course of treatment depends on the machine the doctors use, the severity of the depression symptoms, and the client’s tolerance for the treatment.

When TMS is effective, clients may not ever experience depression symptoms again. They may also go years without symptoms and need treatment again. To best maximize the chances of TMS working, patients should also attend therapy sessions and cultivate a suite of healthy coping mechanisms to help them after TMS is over.

Is TMS Safe?

TMS has gone through several clinical trials and received approval from the FDA as a safe method for treating depression. Furthermore, the professionals who administer TMS receive thorough training on the devices. Only medical doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants can perform the treatment.

Many patients go through TMS without any unwanted side effects. About half of TMS clients have mild headaches. Over-the-counter pain relievers generally take care of these side effects. About 10% of patients have either pain or tingling where the magnetic coil touches the scalp. Both of these side effects tend to lessen with each session.

Some clients bring earplugs to their sessions because the machine is loud, like an MRI. Most patients find that the side effects of TMS are significantly better than those that antidepressants can cause.

Benefits of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy

Although therapy and medications help many patients with depression, other clients continue to struggle with the disorder even with this type of help. Other patients experience depression relief with drugs, but the adverse side effects of the drugs outweigh the benefits for them. These patients can benefit significantly from TMS, which has helped countless clients recover even after other therapies weren’t right.

The most critical TMS benefit is that it provides long-lasting relief from a terrible disorder. Without effective treatment, depression can be fatal. In that sense, TMS is a lifesaving option for many people.

Another significant benefit is that TMS provides this relief with fewer side effects than the alternatives, including ECT. Patients who go through ECT must be under anesthesia and remain hospitalized for some time after treatment. TMS provides an equally effective treatment that is less invasive and requires no hospitalization.

As researchers continue to look into the power of TMS, the treatment could offer relief for patients with other disorders as well. People with OCD, bipolar disorder, substance addiction, and schizophrenia may all benefit from TMS soon.

What to Expect During Your First TMS Treatment

Some patients feel worried before their first TMS sessions. LifeStance Health treatment teams expect some nerves and do everything they can to ease patients before their procedures. Below are some of the common questions that clients ask. Patients should also feel free to ask their providers anything they want to know before they begin.

How Do I Prepare for TMS?

Unlike with some medical procedures, patients do not need to fast or drink anything special before attending their TMS treatments. The medical staffs ask patients to remove magnetic accessories before the procedure so that they don’t interfere with the electromagnetic signals. Clients also want to keep credit and debit cards outside the treatment area because the magnet can wipe the data off of the strips.

Offices may also provide earplugs to protect against the loud sounds that the machine makes. Finally, some patients bring Tylenol or other over-the-counter pain medicines just in case they get headaches after the procedure.

Does TMS Hurt?

Many patients feel no discomfort during TMS, but others experience mild headaches or tingling in the scalp. However, this is typically the extent of any pain from TMS. The treatment team does not cut a client’s skin and no anesthesia is required.

What Happens After Treatment?

Patients leave the facilities as soon as their TMS sessions end. Most clients drive themselves home or back to work. However, patients who experience frequent headaches may wish to bring a loved one the first few times, just in case. In the rare instances in which patients experience severe side effects, such as seizures, they should receive medical treatment right away and follow up with their doctors. However, almost all patients can continue to attend their TMS sessions as scheduled.

Want to try TMS therapy? Contact a Florida TMS therapy center near you today!