Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Depression is an illness that is very treatable. Most times, psychotherapy, medication, and sometimes electroconvulsive therapy are effective, even in resistant or severe cases of depression. But if you find that standard treatments just aren’t working, you might want to explore alternative or experimental treatments. Joining a clinical trial may be an option to consider. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a procedure that uses magnetic fields to alter brain activity but remains experimental since it hasn’t yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treatment of depression.

Most often, TMS is performed by having an electromagnetic coil held against your scalp. An electric current generates a magnetic pulse that causes small electrical currents in your brain, stimulating nerve cells that regulate mood and depression. The procedure is none-invasive and is done on an outpatient basis, taking about half an hour to perform.

TMS May Improve Your Mood

TMS may suppress or increase brain activity depending on the type of TMS performed, and an improvement in mood lasting days and even weeks may occur. The best dosage and ideal location of the brain for such stimulation is still being evaluated.

Talk to Your Doctor

Because TMS is in its experimental stages, it is not recommended as the first line of treatment for depression and is only available in the United States through clinical trials. In countries where transcranial magnetic stimulation has received formal approval, the treatment tends to be used where standard treatment has been unsuccessful or as an alternative treatment. If you believe that your depression hasn’t responded to standard treatment, you may be a good candidate for TMS trials. Discuss TMS with your physician.

TMS is not for you if you have a pacemaker, a metal implant in the head, have had a stroke, are pregnant, suffer from uncontrolled migraines, have a family history of seizure, or have had neurosurgery in the past.

Because TMS poses a risk for seizure, the International Society for Transcranial Stimulation recommends that the procedure be performed where medical help is available. The most common side effects of TMS include:



A feeling of discomfort from noise during treatment

Pain at the site



Transcranial magnetic stimulation may offer advantages over electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), since ECT induces convulsions, requires anesthesia, and sometimes causes memory loss. However, while some studies suggest that TMS can help improve symptoms for two or more weeks, other studies imply that its effect is more like that of a placebo.

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