What Happens in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy?

Thursday, May 31, 2018 | By Chris Clancy

transcranial magnetic stimulation

Depression is a mental health condition that impacts millions of people throughout the United States on a regular basis. There are many different medications, such as Wellbutrin, Zoloft, and Effexor that are used in the treatment of depression, as well as therapeutic approaches like cognitive therapy and experiential therapy. While many people find success through the application of medication and/or therapy, others still struggle with symptoms of depression. Thankfully, there are more options available for those who have depression and are striving to overcome the challenges associated with it.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS, is a type of procedure that attempts to stimulate nerve cells in the brain through the use of magnetic fields. Those who have depression experience problems with their mood, as it can be exceedingly challenging to obtain a normal sense of happiness. Therefore, transcranial magnetic stimulation targets the prefrontal cortex of the brain where mood is regulated. There is very little scientific understanding of exactly why TMS works; however, it is believed, through patient results, that it improves one’s mood and decreases his or her symptoms of depression.

What Happens During a TMS Session?

If you are receiving transcranial magnetic stimulation, you will do so in an outpatient setting, such as at your doctor’s office. And, in most cases, you will continue this therapy five days a week for upwards of six weeks, depending on your own personal needs. To help provide you with the proper care, your doctor will put the coils on your head and turn up the magnetic field until he or she sees your fingers/hands move. At that point, the doctor will have an idea of how much magnetic stimulation is appropriate for you. Once that is determined, all of your sessions will likely be the same. You will sit in a chair while the doctor puts the magnetic coil on your head and begins the treatment, during which you will be awake. It is not painful, but you will hear is some clicking and you will feel tapping on your forehead. Most treatments last for 40 minutes. TMS will not impact your ability to continue on with the other aspects of your life. In fact, once you are done with your session, you can proceed as normal.

How Does TMS Work?

TMS does not just tell the brain to stop feeling depressed and then the brain follows suit. Instead, it is a complex assembly line of actions that occur within the brain to produce positive outcomes. The coil is used to target stimulation to specific parts of the brain so that the neurons in that area become active and begin producing chemicals that are capable of treating symptoms of depression. Continuing with this treatment allows the brain to learn how to reenact this process on its own, thus treating the individual’s depression.

Are There Dangers of TMS?

In general, TMS is a very safe treatment option for those who are depressed and who are not responding to medication and/or therapy. However, there can be some side effects from receiving this treatment. Some people might experience headaches, spasms in the face, and lightheadedness, along with slight discomfort at the site of the coil. It is extremely rare for anyone to experience one or more dangerous side effects related to TMS, however, it can happen. These side effects include seizures, mania, and hearing loss.

To ensure that you are healthy enough to receive this type of treatment, it is imperative to tell your doctor and/or therapist if you are pregnant or have any metal objects (such as medical devices) in your body. This can include stents, bullet fragments, and cochlear implants, to name a few. It is also imperative to mention if you have other mental health conditions, in particular bipolar disorder, as TMS has the potential to cause mania, which is a trait of this condition.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Benefits of TMS

The main draw to transcranial magnetic stimulation is that it can improve symptoms of depression. And, for the 14 million people in the country who are grappling with this condition, this can be significant in their treatment. However, there are additional benefits to this type of procedure, such as it is non-invasive and can be conducted within an outpatient setting. As a result, it does not require an individual to experience physical pain or setbacks related to his or her everyday tasks.

Receiving the appropriate treatment for depression can be completely life-altering and in a good way. Because of TMS, many people are finally able to get care that is effective for them. And, as a result, they are able to improve upon their social lives, personal lives, and professional lives in ways that keep them connected, present, and excited for what’s next.

History of TMS

TMS is currently highly regarded as a safe and effective type of treatment for those who have depression and other mental health conditions like anxiety. It was first used in 1985, and since then, it has been used for millions of people worldwide.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is often compared to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) because both treatments are used to reduce symptoms of depression. However, ECT has been widely criticized and even called inhumane by some. This procedure, which has been utilized for nearly 100 years, has a major history of controversy around it, as it is much more invasive than TMS and has been used as a form of punishment. Also, ECT requires individuals to receive anesthesia and stay in the hospital. Today, ECT is not as severe as it used to be, however, it is still done within a hospital setting and while the patient is under general anesthesia. Therefore, many people turn to TMS, as it is a much easier process.

Getting Help

Depression is, by far, one of the most common mental health conditions in the country. This condition can lead to severe side effects, including suicide attempts and violent behavior, if not properly treated. Studies show that approximately 30% of patients receiving treatment for depression experience a relapse of symptoms even when they are taking medication and/or receiving therapy. While this can be demoralizing for those who are experiencing remission of symptoms, it is always imperative to continue to find new ways to treat depression before it becomes worse.

If you are depressed and need help, do not be afraid to reach out. Talking to a loved one can serve as your first step, or you can take the time to call us today. You do not have to hide your depression, and you do not need to continue to live in a way that you are not happy with. So, call us right now. We can help.

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