What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation? How TMS Therapy Works?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation or TMS is the first and only FDA-cleared treatment for depression that does not require surgery or medication and is safe and effective. While you recline in a chair, the TMS magnet gently sits on your head and sends low-dose magnetic pulses to the parts of the brain associated with depression. You can resume your day’s activities after the treatment.

The treatment is safe with none of the side effects associated with most anti-depressant medications. This means there is no weight gain, sexual dysfunction, sedation, or memory impairment. This is because the treatment is applied externally to a specific area and does not enter your system the way medication does. This safety and efficacy profile makes it possible to recommend TMS even if you have tried only one medication and it has not worked.

How TMS Works?

Short pulses of magnetic energy are aimed at the structures in the brain thought to control mood (Limbic System Structures, many of which are involved in mood regulation). The left prefrontal cortex is used to access these structures non-invasively from outside the brain with TMS Therapy. The unique nature of magnetic fields allows them to pass through the skull and into the cortex without being distorted in any way. This facilitates a very focal type of stimulation, minimizing stimulation of brain tissue not involved in mood.

Once inside the brain, the dynamic (rapidly changing) nature of the magnetic pulses induces electrical charges to flow. The amount of electricity created in the brain is very small, and cannot be felt by the patient. When in the correct orientation relative to brain cells (neurons), these very small electric charges can cause the neurons to fire or become active. The objective of TMS therapy is to stimulate conduction in neurons. Specifically, TMS targets the circuits of the brain that have been underactive during depression (the prefrontal circuit). Patients remain awake and alert during a TMS Therapy procedure.

The typical course of treatment consists of five sessions per week over a 4-6 week period for the treatment of depression. Treating other psychiatric disorders requires different protocols, which can range from 3-20 sessions. Some insurance companies have been willing to pay for a significant portion of the treatment and this trend is increasing, but it depends on your company and coverage and a successful completion of documentation after the treatment. This is not a difficult process and our staff will gladly help you fill out all the paperwork involved.

Is TMS right for you?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Can Help You Even If Medications and Therapy Have Not

TMS therapy has been shown to be very effective even in patients who have failed multiple trials of medication and therapy. In the FDA trials, over 10,000 active TMS treatments performed on depressed patients at institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, Columbia University, and Stanford University have shown that approximately 1 in 2 patients treated with TMS experienced significant improvement in their symptoms of depression. This is a similar outcome to those achieved via the administration of anti-depressants. Throughout the TMS trials, 1 in 3 patients experienced complete relief from their depression at the end of six weeks of treatment. This is very consistent with success rates of currently used antidepressants in the US today.

TMS is not for everyone. Although this is a very safe form of therapy, just as with MRIs, the technology’s utilization of magnetic fields means TMS cannot be used on patients with any free-floating metal inside the skull (such as metal clips from vascular surgery or shrapnel).