An estimated 5% of adults suffer from depression in some capacity, with women being affected more than men. Untreated, it could easily lead to suicide and other harmful acts; however, there are a range of treatments that can help manage depression and improve your quality of life. TMS therapy is one such option that can improve the symptoms of major depression using magnetic fields. Here’s what you need to know about this FDA-approved treatment, how it works, and why it’s good for your mental wellness.
How TMS Therapy Works
When a patient goes in for a TMS therapy session, an electromagnetic coil is placed against their scalp. This coil sends magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in certain areas of the brain that can affect depression. The targeted regions are less active when a person suffers from depression. Stimulating them helps to rebalance the brain’s activities.
Before you begin, your healthcare provider will find the best place to put the magnet on your head. They’ll also diagnose what dose of magnetic energy will be sufficient. At your first treatment, they’ll map your brain using stimulating pulses. Your physician will move the coil around to find the location that causes your fingers or hands to twitch. They then change the strength of these pulses to whatever is necessary for the procedure.
Subsequent treatments will last upwards of twenty minutes per session. You’ll wear earplugs as the magnetic coil is placed onto your head. At most, you should only feel rapid tapping on your scalp and some minor discomfort. After each treatment, you might have a minor headache. However, you are still safe to work and drive as normal.
The actual biology behind TMS isn’t completely understood, but the results speak for themselves. TMS therapy utilizes multiple treatments spread out over several weeks. FDA-approved protocols for depression treatment mandate it happen every weekday for six weeks at an approved facility.
Types of TMS
How TMS therapy is performed will vary based on magnet strength and how the magnetic field is applied. For example, the pulses used in TMS can vary as low as 1 Hz to upward of 10 Hz. The lower-frequency pulses happen slower, while the higher-frequency ones involve more pulses per second. Further, different patterns of pulses may be used. A theta-burst stimulation uses three 5 Hz pulses in bursts to generate 15 pulses per second, which can lead to a quicker treatment than other methods.
If your physician wants to target different brain structures than those specifically for depression, then they’ll use a different magnetic coil. Deep TMS uses an H-shaped helmed coil to treat OCD.
Using TMS to Treat Mental Health Conditions
Treating depression is only one benefit of TMS therapy. This treatment is also helpful for a variety of other mental health conditions related to the same affected areas of the brain. Currently, the FDA has approved TMS for treating major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, PTSD, migraines, and smoking cessation. However, there is ongoing research into whether or not it can help with overcoming addiction, treating Alzheimer’s disease, and alleviating chronic pain. If used for something like OCD, your physician may need to change the type of magnetic coil to reach different brain structures.
How to Prepare
Before going in for TMS therapy, you’ll need both a physical exam and a mental health evaluation. Treatment specialists need to make sure that you’ve tried everything else for your depression and do not have any physical conditions that may interfere with the process. Ensure your healthcare provider knows your medical history and any ongoing ailments. If you’re pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, then you may not qualify. The same goes for anyone who has metal or implanted medical devices.
You or your family cannot have a history of seizures or epilepsy, as this treatment may make those conditions worse. Not all pre-existing conditions will disqualify you for TMS therapy, but you should discuss them thoroughly with your physician.
Associated Risks and Side Effects
Unlike other forms of deep brain stimulation, TMS therapy does not require invasive surgery. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its own set of risks. Immediately after a session, you may feel some side effects, such as scalp discomfort, a headache, and lightheadedness. These should decrease over time as you proceed with more sessions.
In a worst-case scenario, TMS therapy can cause seizures as well as emotional highs in people with bipolar disorder. Your hearing may also suffer if your ears aren’t well-protected. With that said TMS therapy should cause your depression symptoms to either improve or disappear entirely. If symptoms resurface later on, you can always repeat the treatment. Many forms of insurance cover this treatment.
If TMS Therapy Fails
There is always the possibility that TMS therapy does not work for your specific mental health problem. If that is the case, your doctor may recommend another type of TMS. Another technique may penetrate deeper into your brain or use a different pulse pattern to get results. You can always move on to other treatment modalities if further treatment proves ineffective. Keep in mind that, for most people, you’ll need upwards of 10 to 15 treatment sessions before you start feeling any results. It can take about three weeks of treatment before you experience results; however, the entire course will take four to six weeks.
Explore Your Therapy Options
TMS therapy is an effective option for treating depression. However, it may not be the perfect fit, depending on your prior medical history. Always consult your doctor about your options and how they may affect you. Comprehensive Wellness Centers provide mental health and substance abuse rehab for those in need. Whether you’re struggling with an addiction or depression, we can give you the tools to recover. Reach out today to verify your insurance and ask questions about our offerings.