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Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a mode of brain stimulation therapy that uses magnetic fields to arouse nerve cells in the brain to improve depression symptoms. TMS is typically recommended only when the patient is unresponsive to psychotherapy and antidepressant medication.
How it Works
TMS therapy involves placing an electromagnetic coil against the scalp near the forehead. A magnetic pulse is painlessly delivered to stimulate nerve cells in the region that controls mood and depression. This activates brain regions that have decreased activity due to depression. Although it is not completely understood how TMS works, the stimulation impacts brain function, improving mood and easing depression symptoms.
The procedure is as follows:
1. The technician gives you earplugs to wear to reduce the magnetic impulses clicking sound. You will be awake during the entire process as there’s no need for general anesthesia.
2. If you’re having TMS therapy for the first time, the technician will take your head measurements to establish where to attach the magnetic coil.
3. The technician will place the magnetic coil on your head and begin the treatment.
4. When the magnetic impulses are released, you will hear a clicking sound. You may also feel a knocking or a tapping sensation below the magnetic coil.
5. The treatment session lasts for 30-60 minutes, and you can drive home and resume daily activities.
The procedure takes place five days a week for 4-6 weeks. The actual length of the treatment depends on individual conditions and response.
The Pros and Cons of TMS Treatment Therapy
Just like other forms of treatment, transcranial magnetic therapy has its advantages and disadvantages, including:
• Non-invasive: This procedure is not invasive, and you do not require anesthesia or hospital admission. When done in an outpatient facility, you will go on with your life immediately after.
• Drug-free: TMS does not involve any drugs, and you can safely use it in a combination of other treatments.
• Shorter treatment time: It takes 4-6 weeks to complete this therapy. Psychological therapy and antidepressants take months or even become lifelong therapy.
• More effective: It can be more effective than medication hence the reason it is preferred for patients who do not respond to antidepressants. It also has fewer side effects compared to medications.
• Insurance coverage: Although coverage for TMS treatment may depend on the specific insurer, insurance can sometimes completely cover it. Enquire from your insurer and determine the extent of their coverage for TMS treatment. This will help you to know if you will need to use some of your money to cover part of the treatment or not.
• You can stop this therapy at any time without suffering withdrawal symptoms seen with most antidepressant medicines. Also, TMS does not cause memory issues like shock therapy and ECT.
• Low risk of seizure: approximately 1 in 10,000 TMS sessions result in the patient having a benign seizure. This is low risk compared to the risks involved with some antidepressants. However, notify your doctor before undergoing TMS treatment therapy if you live with a seizure disorder. Also, let your doctor know if you have the following devices: implanted stimulators, stents, aneurysm coils or slips, deep brain stimulators, implanted electrical devices, brain activity monitoring electrodes, hearing implants, or bullet fragments.
• Time commitment: You need to invest time to complete this therapy successfully. This is because it approximately takes six weeks while attending five daily sessions per week.
• Limited public awareness: TMS treatment therapy is not publicized much. Many people who need the procedure do not know about it. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical lobbying focuses on medication by introducing new medicines often. They do not want to educate patients on alternatives to antidepressants because of business interests.