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Why Someone Might Say, “TMS Made Me Worse” or “TMS Ruined My Life”

Why Someone Might Say, “TMS Made Me Worse” or “TMS Ruined My Life”

Published: May 5, 2022

Treatment options for mental health disorders often come with acute side effects. If you have been thinking about getting transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), you may be wondering 'Will TMS make me worse?'

TMS is a proven effective means of treatment that is typically used for patients who do not respond to antidepressant medications. However, similarly to traditional medicines, TMS does not work for everyone. This should not worry you, as these negative experiences are sporadic. This blog post will cover what TMS is, how it works, and common concerns you may have.

What Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS is a non-invasive treatment used to relieve symptoms of depression and, recently, anxiety. The procedure uses a magnetic coil to enhance activity in specific brain areas, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

TMS treatment is an alternative to electroconvulsive therapy; it works by delivering repetitive magnetic pulses. Therefore, it is called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).

Although severe depression and generalized anxiety disorder are treatable conditions, for some, typical treatments, such as anti-depressants, do not work. rTMS is used when treatments, such as medications and psychotherapy are ineffective.

How TMS works

An electromagnetic coil is placed over the patient's head during a TMS session. This sends alternative magnetic pulses to stimulate brain activity in areas associated with mood and depression.

As TMS therapy is a non-invasive procedure, the treatment is undergone, outpatient. Patients are awake throughout and can continue their day following the sessions.

It is typically carried out in a medical professional's office or clinic. A course of treatment runs daily for four to six weeks, and each session lasts for around 40 minutes. If rTMS works for you, depression symptoms will improve or go completely.

"TMS Made Me Worse" - Can TMS Really Make You Worse?

The majority of patients' experiences of TMS therapy are positive, with no side effects present. Some mild and temporary side effects that are common after treatment sessions include:

  • Skin tingling
  • Mild headaches
  • Lightheadedness

Many patients report that these side effects decrease after a few sessions.

However, several patients have experienced what is known as a TMS dip, a temporary worsening of depression or anxiety symptoms. This 'dip' has been said to have occurred around halfway through treatment as the brain cells adjust to the new changes.

TMS treatments use magnetic pulses to stimulate neurons in the brain; this interrupts the brain's regular activity. A disruption like this can affect patients by increasing energy or worsening depression symptoms.

It is important to remember that this 'dip' is temporary, and most patients begin to feel better after a few weeks of treatment. But it isn't just TMS that can cause a dip. Many antidepressants have worsened symptoms, and patients initially experience adverse side effects. This is because our bodies need time to adjust to a new medication and feel the full benefits.

Treatments for depression and anxiety usually involve a long-term plan to adjust to medications and ensure the best treatment is provided for each individual. The same can be said for the TMS experience. Some patients may require another round of TMS treatment to be effective.

Another reason why some patients may have reported that TMS 'made them worse' is because they have had a misdiagnosis. In rare cases, someone with bipolar disorder may be diagnosed with depression. However, transcranial magnetic stimulation is not an effective or approved treatment for bipolar disorder and can make symptoms worse.

Read more: When does TMS start working

TMS Is Proven To Be Safe And Effective In Treating Depression Symptoms

Depression affects around 40 million adults in the United States, and while there are effective treatments in place, first-line options do not work for everyone. Fortunately, these patients have been offered a new lifeline with TMS treatments.

TMS therapy is an FDA-approved treatment that has been proven to be effective and safe in treating major depression. Several clinical studies have been conducted, and results showed that between 60% and 75% of patients experienced an improvement in depression symptoms.

Multiple studies have been conducted, on patients suffering from depression, to compare the effects of TMS with a placebo. It was found that improvement was more remarkable amongst those who received active TMS treatments.

The most severe adverse effect is seizures. However, this risk is the same for antidepressants and occurs in less than 0.1 to 0.5% of patients.

Other depression treatments have far more life-altering side effects than TMS. If a patient experiences any negative impact after TMS, these subside within a matter of weeks, whereas the side effects of antidepressants can last the whole course and may worsen. Side effects of antidepressants include:

  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Fatigue

Can TMS Damage Your Brain?

Many people wonder whether TMS will have any adverse effects on the brain. Prolonged exposure can be daunting, but many clinical studies have found no negative long-term effects after TMS.

There is no evidence that TMS can cause brain tumors, memory loss, or a decline in concentration.

The magnetic fields used in TMS are similar to those used for MRI scans. However, TMS uses a much smaller exposure than that experienced in an MRI scan, so even if you received several TMS sessions, it would equal less than the exposure received from an MRI session.

Can TMS Make Your Anxiety Symptoms Worse?

Although more research is needed, doctors have acknowledged the success of TMS in treating anxiety disorders. Studies suggest that the most significant improvement is amongst patients suffering from depression and comorbid anxiety or anxious depression.

One study found that when TMS was used for depression, it increased anxiety in patients. One particular study carried out in 2011 found that when TMS was used for patients with a panic disorder, it made the anxiety worse.

Many clinics do not list anxiety as a potential side effect despite this. There is no concrete evidence that TMS makes anxiety worse. Most people who experience TMS report feeling calmer and are more able to deal with stressors in their life.

Read more: What if TMS doesn't work?

TMS Treatment at GIA

GIA Miami is a mental health clinic specializing in TMS. Our treatment center offers the most up-to-date and advanced evidence-based treatment administered by outstanding mental health professionals.

For most people, standard forms of treatment, such as therapeutic practices, are effective. However, TMS offers an alternative approach to medicines, behavioral therapies, and support groups that can produce significant changes in clients.

TMS can be a life-changing treatment option. Contact us today to find out more.

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