Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a non-invasive, relatively painless procedure with far fewer side effects than antidepressant medication. Read on to find out more about TMS and whether it could be for you.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is an innovative, evidence-based treatment that uses gentle magnetic ways to stimulate nerve cells in the brain, leading to pronounced changes in mood and behavior. FDA-cleared in 2008 for treatment-resistant depression, TMS is an effective treatment for a range of mental health disorders, including anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction.
TMS is a non-invasive treatment that requires no surgery, with clients staying conscious throughout the procedure. Clients can resume normal activities immediately after the treatment session and may drive to and from the center.
Most mental wellness treatment programs use repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a type of TMS that uses multiple trains of repetitive magnetic pulses as opposed to a single pulse. You may find the terms rTMS and TMS used interchangeably.
Studies have shown that people living with mood and behavioral disorders, such as major depression and OCD, have higher or lower activity levels in certain brain areas than those without mental health conditions. Variations in brain activity can affect emotions, mood, and cognitive functions such as reward, motivation, and concentration.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation aims to address these imbalances by affecting activity in the relevant brain areas, usually in an area known as the prefrontal dorsolateral cortex. It uses an electromagnetic coil to generate a magnetic field that passes seamlessly through the client’s scalp. The field creates tiny electrical currents in brain neurons, stimulating activity.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation sessions can cause improvements in mood that persist a year after the end of treatment.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy has very few side effects, the most common being mild headaches and scalp discomfort at the treatment site. These side-effects are temporary and tend to reduce throughout treatment.
Less frequent side effects include jaw pain and twitching of the facial muscles. Once again, these side effects are temporary and usually decrease as treatment progresses. Your TMS therapist may be able to reduce these side effects by adjusting the positioning and intensity of the magnetic coil.
TMS treatment comes with a small risk of seizures. However, this risk is comparable to or less than other mental health treatments including antidepressant medication. Moreover, transcranial magnetic stimulation avoids many of the systemic side effects that come with pharmaceutical treatment, such as weight gain.
TMS has fewer side effects than many other major depression treatments. It avoids nausea, weight gain, fatigue, and sexual dysfunction associated with antidepressant medication. It does not come with a risk of temporary memory loss that can result from electroconvulsive therapy.
Moreover, transcranial magnetic stimulation may produce a more sustained response than other treatments. With medications treating depression symptoms, it is common to stay in treatment continually for at least a year. On the other hand, a course of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation sessions may produce effects that last for more than a year after the end of treatment.
TMS is a relatively painless procedure. The only painful side effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation are jaw pain, scalp discomfort, and headaches. These symptoms tend to lessen over the treatment course and may be improved by adjusting the position and intensity of the magnetic coil.
Brain stimulation therapies involve activating or inhibiting the brain with electricity. They may be invasive (requiring surgery) or non-invasive. Some types of brain stimulation therapies include:
Unlike some brain stimulation therapies which require surgery or deliberately cause seizures, transcranial magnetic stimulation is non-invasive and painless. This makes it a safer option than other treatments.
Anyone with permanent metal implants in their head (except for fillings or dental braces) should avoid TMS therapy. The magnetic pulses could heat up, move, or change the function of these implants, possibly resulting in injury or even death.
Some implants that prevent an individual from receiving TMS therapy are:
You should seek the advice of a medical professional before participating in TMS therapy if you:
Read more: What to expect from TMS Therapy
A typical course of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy consists of daily sessions for six weeks, followed by a few weeks of tapering-off sessions. Sessions are usually between 20-40 minutes long, although the first session may be longer.
Some people notice improvements within two weeks, while others wait four to five weeks before noticing a change. If you have to wait a little longer before things get better, it doesn’t mean the treatment is working less well. It’s important to stay in treatment and stick to the program.
Studies have found that taking a short break from transcranial magnetic stimulation - for appointments, holidays, or the unpredictability of daily life - doesn’t impact its effectiveness, so you don’t need to worry about missing occasional sessions. Research also suggests that it is the number of TMS sessions that is important, not the frequency - taking twice-daily sessions over a shorter time is just as effective as once-daily.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a highly effective treatment for several mental health conditions. Studies have found that may improve depression symptoms in over 50% of clients living with major depressive disorder, including those with treatment-resistant depression.
Other trials have shown TMS to effectively treat 84% of clients with generalized anxiety disorder and 52% of people with OCD. It may also improve symptoms in a range of substance and behavioral addictions, including nicotine, alcohol, and gambling.
At GIA Miami, we're pioneers in TMS therapy. Our expert team contains world-leading researchers and practitioners, ready to apply their exceptional experience to your treatment plan. Our founder, Dr. Bonci, has co-authored groundbreaking papers on the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy for addiction, leading to the certification of the treatment in the European Union.
Our programs offer TMS therapy as part of an integrated program that is tailored to each client's unique needs. We combine TMS with behavioral, group, and couples therapy - according to what works best for you. Using advanced diagnostic technologies, we assess and evaluate your treatment plan throughout your time with us, ensuring you are always receiving the highest quality of treatment.
We understand that mental wellness is more than just a science - it's an aspect of our humanity. We ensure we act with compassion, dignity, integrity, and respect throughout all parts of our program. We aim to make our mental wellness treatments as accessible as possible, so everyone has the chance to reach their full potential.
If you are living with a substance use disorder, mental health condition, or looking to enhance your performance, contact us today. We're here to help you back to your best self. Call us today for a free consultation.
Read more: TMS for Borderline
How to Take Care of Your Mental Health
How To Think Positive When Depressed
How Do I Know If I Have Postpartum Depression?