Understanding TMS Therapy

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy, also known as TMS, is an alternative many mental health specialists utilize when therapy and medication have not made inroads with a patient. TMS is a safe process in which the specialist attaches electromagnets to the patient to stimulate the brain.

TMS is not an invasive process and an effective intervention for those with depression. Anyone considering TMS should understand that mental health professionals carefully weigh the benefits of the procedure against any risk.

Patients should also understand that Electroconvulsive Therapy is a separate treatment entirely. In some cases, where TMS is not the right solution, doctors may suggest ECT, but it is unrelated otherwise.

The History of TMS

The research behind TMS began in the mid 1980s. As research began to reveal more and more about the parts of the brain that relate to different functions, they also began to understand that stimulating specific regions affected mood disorders.

Research was ongoing for the next few decades, as the experts explored the possibilities and assessed risk. The FDA approved TMS for use as an intervention with depression in 2008. It is now considered a standard approach for patients with depression.

TMS & Other Disorders

Mental health professionals primarily use TMS to treat therapy and medication-resistant depression. Researchers are currently looking into its effectiveness with other disorders, including OCD, migraines, ADHD, and schizophrenia, to name just a few.

Types of TMS

There are three types of TMS used today. They are rTMS, or Repetitive TMS, which delivers rapid and repeating signal, dTMS, or Deep TMS, which sends deep signals, and traditional TMS, which sends a continuous signal.

How It Works

Researchers have a general understanding of how TMS manages to neutralize depression in the brain. How this works exactly is not yet confirmed, however. What is known is that TMS is able to stimulate nerves in certain regions of the brain. By using it on regions that would otherwise stagnate during depression, TMS manages to counteract the disorder.

The renewed activity in the regions allows the brain to develop new neural pathways, providing relief from depression for the patient.

The Specifics of TMS

Am electromagnetic coil is placed on the patient’s scalp. This coil creates a magnetic field that stimulate cells inside the brain. No anesthesia is required and the patient experiences no pain. What’s more, it is a quick, outpatient procedure that patients can fit into any schedule.

How Long is TMS

One treatment takes no more than an hour, sometimes half an hour. The doctor chooses the time needed based on the patient’s symptoms.

The results of TMS can be significant and last a long time. Some patients never experience a recurrence of depression when TMS works efficiently. It can be a good idea for patients to supplement TMS with therapy so that they have good coping skills in place, whatever their results with TMS.

The Safety of TMS

Patients must work with a trained doctor in the administration of TMS. A medical team oversees the procedure; the MD is on hand for the initial magnetic transmission and the redetermination of it. In some scenarios, a Physician’s Assistant or nurse practitioner may take on this role.

In about 50 percent of patients, a mild headache can follow the first few treatments, but in general many patients experience few side effects. OTC headache medicines are effective at neutralizing this occasional side effect.

In some cases, patients may have tingling in the scalp that causes some pain. Estimates place the number of these occurrences at around 10 percent of cases. In very rare scenarios, patients may experience seizures, but the odds for this side effect are 1 in 10,000 to 20,000 cases.

Patients may want to wear earplugs during TMS as the noise can be quite loud.

TMS Benefits

When patients have experienced adverse effects with medications or are seeing few results via therapy, TMS is a very effective alternative. TMS also works well in tandem with therapy, as it can address the physical symptoms of the disorder. Perhaps most importantly, TMS is a beacon of hope for many who have made few inroads with traditional interventions to combat depression.

TMS is also a good alternative to ECT, which requires anesthesia and has more side effects. In TMS treatment there is no recovery time, either, as the patient is awake and able to go home right after the treatment.

As TMS research continues, it may help with many other mental disorders. There is hope that patients with issues as diverse as schizophrenia and substance abuse may benefit from TMS.

What to Expect During Your First TMS Treatment

The first TMS treatment can feel intimidating, but your medical care team will do everything they can to help you feel at ease. It can help to know what to expect before you come to your first appointment. Below are some of the common questions that we get regarding TMS.

Preparing for Your Session

Unlike with other medical procedures, patients do not need to do any prep for their procedure, such as avoid foods or liquid. You will need to remove any accessories that react to magnetism or are magnetic themselves. TMS can also affect credit cards.

The medical staff can give you earplugs to wear during the procedure. Make sure that you have an OTC medication for headache on hand in case you need it after your TMS session.

Will TMS Hurt?

Mild pain in the scalp or a headache can occur after a TMS procedure. As a non-invasive procedure, TMS comes with none of the pain or risk associated with invasive procedures.

Follow-up to Treatment

Patients can go home right after a TMS procedure and can even drive themselves if they like. If you are sensitive to or prone to headaches, arrange for someone to drive you, if you prefer. In the rare case of seizure, seek medical intervention right away. If things proceed without any severe reaction, you can continue your treatments in due course.

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