What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder. Read more…

In 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared TMS as a treatment for severe depression when other treatments have not been effective. Doctors usually recommend that candidates try at least one round of prescription antidepressants prior to attempting TMS treatment.

Photograph courtesy of MagVenture

Photograph courtesy of MagVenture

During TMS treatment, patients recline in a chair similar to a dental chair and a physician or nurse places an electromagnetic coil against the forehead, near the prefrontal cortex of the brain which regulates mood. The coil sends short, intense magnetic pulses into the brain, inducing an electrical current in specific nerve cells. It is thought that these currents stimulate brain cells in a complex way that can reduce depression. Typically, sessions of TMS last from a half hour to an hour over the course of 20-30 sessions.

Although Arundel Lodge does not offer transcranial magnetic stimulation as a treatment option, one of our persons served, Rahel P., experienced positive results with the treatment.

Late last winter I was struck with a terrible, debilitating depression. For weeks I struggled to get out of bed. Each and every day when I opened my eyes, I wondered how I was going to make it through the day. I struggled to feed myself and could not keep up with personal hygiene. I sat in my chair unable to move for hours at a time. I felt ill all over my entire body and could no longer do the simplest task of my daily routine.

One afternoon, as I browsed depression on the Internet, I came across an article on Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. I made an appointment and was able to see the doctor in the next few days. The treatment was clearly explained and after the second week of treatment, my depression started to subside. My suicidal thoughts disappeared, my energy started getting stronger, I started getting out of bed and looking forward to my day. I began looking in the mirror and keeping up with personal hygiene, preparing my meals, eating became enjoyable, and interacting with people became easier and more enjoyable. I took less medication. My family started seeing many positive changes.”

Pain usually isn’t a side effect of TMS, but some people have described the sensation of the magnetic pulse as uncomfortable with a knocking or tapping feeling with each pulse. The procedure is associated with mild to moderate side effects, including:

  • feelings of lightheadedness
  • temporary hearing problems, due to the sometimes loud magnet noise
  • mild headaches
  • tingling in the face, jaw, or scalp
  • though rare, there is a small risk of seizures

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is another therapy that involves stimulating the brain. However, ECT is performed under general anesthesia and involves creating an electric current that essentially causes short seizures in the brain and is often associated with memory loss. By contrast, people receiving TMS do not have to be sedated and do not experience memory loss as a side effect. Additionally, when the TMS coil is held over a certain area of the brain, the impulses travel only to that part of the brain. Electroconvulsive therapy is unable to target specific areas of the brain.

Some individuals do not qualify as candidates for TMS. The magnetic coil used in the treatment can be dangerous for anyone who has implanted metal devices or non-removeable metallic objects, such as metal plates or aneurysm coils, in or around the the head or neck (with the exception of braces or dental fillings). The electric current emited from TMS could cause the metal object to heat up, move, or malfunction, resulting in serious injury or death. A doctor should conduct a thorough examination and take a medical history before using the therapy.

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