What Happens During a Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Session?
A transcranial magnetic stimulation session typically takes less than one hour to complete. Before the treatment session begins, you’ll recline in a chair so one of our treatment professionals can position a small, curved device on your head. The device contains an electromagnetic coil that produces the pulses used to stimulate certain parts of your brain.
When the treatment session begins, you’ll hear a clicking sound and then feel a tapping sensation on your head as the device delivers repetitive magnetic pulses. TMS requires no sedatives or anesthesia, so you won’t have to worry about feeling groggy or having an adverse reaction to any medications during your treatment. Because it’s a noninvasive form of treatment, there are no electrodes or implantable devices involved in transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Benefits of Brain Stimulation for Depression
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation has several key benefits for people suffering from treatment-resistant depression. One of the greatest benefits of TMS is improved mood regulation. People with depression often have difficulty regulating their emotions, causing mood swings that can make it difficult to maintain personal relationships. While some people with depression have persistent feelings of sadness, others are irritable, get frustrated easily or lash out in anger when their friends or family members ask what’s wrong. Repetitive TMS can reduce these mood swings, leaving people with depression feeling more confident and in control of their lives.
Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation may also work when other depression treatments have failed. Antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy and other treatments all have their place, but they don’t work for everyone. Repetitive TMS gives patients with treatment-resistant depression the opportunity to control their symptoms without undergoing more invasive treatments.
Another benefit of repetitive TMS is that it’s a targeted therapy aimed at the specific parts of the brain implicated in serious cases of depression. Antidepressants treat depression symptoms, but they can also cause weight gain, dizziness, headaches, indigestion and other bothersome side effects. Because repetitive TMS uses a targeted magnetic pulse aimed directly at the head, it doesn’t produce systemic side effects that can make it difficult to stick with your treatment plan.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) vs Electroconvulsive Therapy
TMS is an option for some people who have severe depression and don’t want to try electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Although electroconvulsive therapy treats depressive symptoms, it’s very different from TMS. While TMS uses magnetic fields, ECT uses electrical pulses delivered via electrodes applied to the scalp. Before undergoing electrical stimulation to treat medication-resistant depression, a patient must have a thorough medical examination. Some patients even need to have their heart function checked to make sure they can do ECT safely. Because TMS is noninvasive, it doesn’t require as many precautions.
To have ECT, a patient must undergo general anesthesia, which has serious risks. These risks are even more concerning for people with diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health conditions, as undergoing general anesthesia may increase the risk of stroke or heart attack or cause the patient to develop pneumonia as a result of being intubated. TMS doesn’t require anesthesia, so you can return to your normal activities as soon as your session ends. Any side effects of TMS are generally mild and limited to your head and facial muscles.
Many people don’t realize that the electrical impulses delivered during an ECT session cause small seizures within the brain. As a result, ECT can result in short-term memory loss or make it difficult for patients to learn new things. In severe cases, ECT patients develop long-term memory problems. TMS is noninvasive and doesn’t cause any seizure activity, so there’s no risk of memory loss or learning difficulties.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) vs Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is also used to treat depression. VNS requires a surgical procedure to implant a small device in the chest. The device delivers targeted electrical impulses to the vagus nerve; those impulses are then transmitted to the brain to treat the symptoms of depression. Researchers don’t know why VNS is effective for treating depression, but they believe the electrical impulses reach the brain cells involved in regulating a person’s mood.
When compared to VNS, one of the main benefits of TMS is that it’s a noninvasive procedure. You don’t have to undergo surgery or have a medical device implanted in your body, shielding you from many of the risks of VNS treatment. Another advantage of TMS over VNS is that you don’t have to worry about whether an implanted device will prevent you from having other medical procedures. Because VNS uses an implantable device, patients may not be able to undergo magnetic resonance imaging. The VNS device can also make it more difficult to get a mammogram or undergo emergency treatment for cardiac arrest.