Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS was developed in 1985 and has been studied as a possible treatment for mental illness since 1995. In TMS therapy, a special electromagnet delivers short bursts of energy to stimulate the brain’s nerve cells in order to correct existing chemical imbalances. Research has shown the treatment may be beneficial. It has been shown to be as effective as other depression treatments, and is generally free of side effects often seen with antidepressant drugs.

Early TMS machines delivered a magnetic pulse every second. Neurologists use these machines to diagnose nerve damage. However, advances in the technology of TMS have resulted in machines that are now able to deliver up to 50 pulses per second. Studies indicate that certain types of this rapid rate TMS (rTMS) can be beneficial for some patients.

The treatments can be performed in a doctor’s office. No surgery is necessary, nor is hospitalization or anesthesia. A small hand-held device is placed against the scalp, which delivers short bursts of magnetic energy that affect the brain. The energy from the machine can be focused on a specific area of the brain, which may allow for more precise treatment. TMS sessions usually take around a half hour. Current research suggests that treatment is most effective when given five days a week for two to four weeks.

Side effects from this type of treatment are mild and relatively infrequent. Some people report a slight knocking or tapping sensation on the head, possibly a result of the tapping sound produced by the TMS device. Some report feeling slight muscle contractions on the scalp. As well, some report mild headache or lightheadedness, which usually ceases soon after the session ends.

In 2008, TMS therapy was approved by the FDA for treatment of depression. As with any medical procedure, TMS does come with some risk. The main risk is that the device could cause a seizure, but current treatment guidelines make this possibility extremely rare. No memory loss or difficulty concentrating has been reported in any clinical study to date.

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