Medication and therapy are unfortunately unsuccessful in treating depression in some people. However, an alternative, reliable method offers hope for them - transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy.
TMS treatment is an alternative lifeline for better mental health due to being effective in treating drug and therapy-resistant depression. Using a repetitive magnetic pulse to stimulate nerve cells in the brain, transcranial magnetic stimulation can reduce symptoms of the mental health condition.
Before recently, TMS therapy was only available in a clinical setting where a doctor would administer treatment sessions. Now, numerous technology companies have created a more convenient replica for at-home use.
TMS home devices are becoming popular among those suffering from depression, anxiety, and insomnia as they can implement home brain stimulation in a cost-effective and safe setting. Before purchasing a TMS device, it is essential to understand how the self-guided treatment works to ensure it is suitable.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive treatment typically used to ease treatment-resistant depression. Although depression is a treatable condition, standard treatments, such as talk therapy (psychotherapy) and medication, do not work for some. In these cases, repetitive TMS is a suitable alternative.
TMS uses magnetic energy to stimulate parts of the brain responsible for mood regulation that is less active due to a mental illness such as major depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved TMS therapy in 2008, twenty years after clinical trials began.
Unlike electroconvulsive therapy, which treats major depression, TMS does not require those undergoing treatment to be sedated. TMS can also reduce the risk of memory loss and seizures.
Repetitive TMS is usually carried out in a doctor's office or clinic. A typical course of treatment includes five sessions a week for four to six weeks. Before TMS therapy can begin, a psychiatrist will determine whether it is suitable for the individual.
During the first rTMS session, doctors identify where to place the magnets on the head while ensuring the correct dose of magnetic energy is provided. Earplugs are available for comfort and hearing protection during a TMS session, as the device produces a loud clicking noise.
Following this, an electromagnetic coil is positioned over the scalp before being turned on and off to produce repetitive stimulation through pulses. The coil generates a stream of low-amplitude magnetic pulses that pass through to the brain, where they help improve brain activity through the stimulation of sluggish cells. It is normal to feel a tapping sensation on the forehead during the treatment. Likewise, it is common to hear several clicking sounds.
Related article: How much does TMS Therapy cost
Research has found that those with depression have reduced activity in their prefrontal cortex. As rTMS uses a magnetic field to stimulate electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex, its efficacy is proven as results show changes in neuronal activity in areas of the brain that deal with mood regulation.
The device creates a powerful magnetic field penetration that induces the production of currents inside the brain, which helps modulate nerve activities. After twenty to thirty sessions, TMS therapy creates new synaptic connections, enhances micro-circulation, and increases oxygen uptake.
There are no serious side effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy - most are mild to moderate and improve shortly after a session. They may include:
It is also customary to experience lightheadedness and scalp discomfort during treatment.
Research suggests that TMS therapy is most effective for those who are treatment-resistant. Unfortunately, if a person has any non-removable metal objects in their head, they should not receive rTMS treatment as it may result in severe injury or death.
rTMS is not available for those with metal implants, such as:
Over the past seven years, at least a dozen companies have sold at-home brain stimulation devices in the US. Many of these devices use a variant of TMS called transcranial direct current stimulation, which creates smaller and safer currents.
The Fisher Wallace Stimulator uses a mild electric current to trigger the production of serotonin in the brain. This is a one-size-fits-all home device positioned on the head with an elastic band. The elastic band then holds electrodes against each temple. The Fisher Wallace stimulator is designed to generate brain changes that lead to mental health improvements. It is recommended that clients use this device for at least a month before assessing its efficacy.
NPX has also created an award-winning, smaller, and more accessible rTMS device for at-home use. This is yet to be approved by the FDA to treat symptoms of depression. It uses surface pain reduction technology to enable a comfortable and safe at-home device. Additionally, this device helps direct energy towards the correct area of the brain. Services such as telemedicine, meditation education, and ambulatory healthcare will be available through the device. Future plans for the device entail artificial intelligence and the measurement of brain waves.
Sixteen million people in the US suffer from a major depressive disorder. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety disorders are the most common healthcare problem in the US workplace. Although efficient, some people may not live in areas where rTMS therapy is available. At-home devices offer a cost-effective means accessible to the wider geographical population.
Read more: Pros and Cons of TMS Therapy
Most outpatient treatment for depression involves the use of medication, which often has a slow response curve. Prolonged use can induce adverse side effects, such as gastrointestinal upset, dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, and sedation. In contrast, TMS is less invasive and allows clients to undergo treatment in a comfortable and natural setting with fewer side effects.
Before being recognized as a treatment for depression, TMS underwent twenty years of clinical studies. Although many at-home devices have FDA clearance, they have not had the same clinical and review studies that allow the approval of effectiveness for treating depression.
At-home brain stimulation works with low-level electric energy, which is not as effective or powerful as TMS therapy. At-home devices have been noted as less effective, and they often create a placebo effect. Studies have suggested that further research is needed to investigate the efficacy of at-home brain stimulation and determine the device's clinical applicability.
TMS therapy is often altered and individualized to find the correct treatment for each person. Devices used at home are typically a one-size-fits-all treatment, making it difficult to account for individual differences in the brain.
Related article: TMS Therapy for addiction
At-home brain stimulation devices are an effective treatment for relieving symptoms of depression. Although perhaps not efficient in long-term use, it is still uncertain whether it will become a clinically applicable device.
Read more: Depression Counseling
Still, TMS at-home devices are on the rise, and they may be the best alternative for those suffering from treatment-resistant depression. As technology advances, these devices may be a breakthrough in treating depression and other mental illnesses.
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