Transcranial magnetic stimulation also referred to as TMS, is a procedure used to treat the symptoms of depression. TMS is commonly used on patients suffering from severe depression or anxiety, that have not responded to other treatment methods such as medication or psychotherapy. During transcranial magnetic stimulation, magnets are used to stimulate nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood control. This stimulation is believed to affect how this region of the brain works, and as a result, improves the symptoms of depression. TMS is less invasive than other brain stimulation procedures used to treat depression and carries fewer risks and side effects.
During the transcranial magnetic stimulation procedure, an electromagnetic coil is held against the forehead of the patient, targeting an area of the brain that is involved in mood regulation. Then, quick electromagnetic pulses are emitted through the coil. The magnetic pulses pass through the skull, and cause electrical currents to stimulate nerve cells in the targeted area. This procedure rarely causes any discomfort except for the feeling of light taps on the head as the pulses are administered. TMS is usually performed in a series of several treatments per week, for three to six weeks.
While TMS is considered a non-invasive treatment, there are minimal side effects which may include:
Spasms or twitching of facial muscles
Scalp discomfort where magnets were placed
These side effects are usually mild and subside within a week or two after treatment. In extremely rare cases, seizures may occur after a TMS procedure.
Because TMS is still a relatively new treatment for depression, long-term results have not been determined. However, many patients who have undergone TMS, do find a decrease in the symptoms of depression after a few weeks of treatment. Patients who have suffered from depression for several years or who suffer from psychosis, may not be candidates for TMS treatments.