TMS Therapy: What Is It & How Does It Work?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. In fact, for some patients, it’s an effective type of therapy aimed at treating symptoms of depression and other mental health disorders that haven’t been improved by other methods.

TMS is a non-invasive procedure. That means there are no needles, swabs, or injections involved. During a session, a coil containing a magnet similar to an MRI magnet will be placed near your head. The coil will deliver magnetic pulses to areas of your brain that are key to regulating mood and other depression symptoms.

TMS therapy is a safe and often effective way of managing treatment-resistant depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Today, Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health’s Dr. Barkat Khan is here to share insight into how TMS therapy works and how it may help patients struggling with certain mental health disorders.

How TMS Therapy Can Help Depression

Transcranial magnetic stimulation involves using magnetic pulses to nerve cells in certain regions of the brain. In patients with depression, there’s often decreased brain activity – which is associated with low moods and other symptoms. The magnetic pulses are thought to stimulate these areas and improve your mood.

There’s still a lot of research ongoing into exactly why this stimulation is effective for treating mood disorders. Since the treatment was first used in 1985, there have been dozens of randomized and controlled trials to determine whether TMS therapy is capable of reducing depression symptoms. While the verdict isn’t final, many of these trials provide promising evidence for the procedure’s effectiveness, which has improved thanks to continued research and experience.

Is TMS therapy effective?

Evidence suggests that TMS is effective in many patients who have not found symptom relief from other means of treatment. When used in conjunction with medication and talk therapy, TMS may reduce some or all depression symptoms.

After receiving a full course of treatment of TMS therapy, your doctor may suggest that it’s important to continue medication and counseling as part of an ongoing plan. You may also want to pursue maintenance TMS, which involves attending regular sessions even after depression symptoms subside. After your treatment course, you and your doctor can make a mental health plan that works for you.

Who can receive TMS therapy?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy is most useful for adults who have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and who have not found significant relief with other medications or therapies. It may also help with patients experiencing bipolar disorder and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but there isn’t enough research out there to prove this yet.

Talk with your doctor or schedule an appointment with Dr. Khan to learn if you’re a candidate for this treatment. Your doctor will discuss your medical history and current concerns to determine if you’re able to receive TMS therapy.

Who isn’t a candidate?

TMS treatment is not suitable for patients who have metal implants or medical devices in their heads or necks that may be affected by magnets. This does not include patients with braces or teeth fillings, as those are made of non-magnetic material.

Examples of implants and devices that may interfere with TMS therapy include:

  • Cardiac pacemakers or defibrillators
  • Stents
  • Deep brain stimulators or electrodes
  • Aneurysm coils or clips
  • Metallic eye or ear implants
  • Embedded metal shrapnel fragments in the head or neck
  • Tattoos with metallic ink on the head or neck

Furthermore, patients with a history of brain damage, brain injury, or seizures may not be candidates for TMS treatment. Your doctor will help determine if other factors may preclude you from this therapy.

What happens during treatment?

TMS sessions are simple and low intensity. TMS is an outpatient procedure, meaning you’ll have it done at a regular doctor’s office or clinic. You’re welcome to drive yourself to and from the appointment. You are not required to abstain from eating or drinking before the session.

Once you’re in the office, a medical professional will measure your head to ensure the TMS coils are in the right position. Your doctor may do other routine tasks, like take your temperature and blood pressure.

After the session begins, all you have to do is remain seated in place. You may hear a slight clicking noise or feel a tapping sensation, even though the coil will never make contact with your head. You will not need to receive a sedative or an anesthetic.

During your session, you’re welcome to read a book, listen to music, meditate, or just generally relax. A medical professional will monitor you for any adverse reactions and to make sure you stay awake. Once the session is over, you’re welcome to continue your day as normal.

Is TMS Therapy Safe?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is generally recognized as safe, particularly because it’s a non-invasive procedure.

Here at Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health, we use NeuroStar® technology, which was the first TMS therapy technology that the FDA cleared as a safe treatment for depression in 2008. In recent years, NeuroStar® has also been approved for treating bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. For more questions about safety, ask your doctor about NeuroStar® transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy.

Side Effects

During a TMS session, it’s common to experience lightheadedness, minor scalp irritation, or a headache while the magnetic coil is in use. Your doctor can adjust the intensity of the magnetic stimulation to reduce side effects.

Rare but serious side effects include fainting and seizures. A medical professional will monitor you during each session to ensure your safety.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a relatively new therapy, so it’s not clear if there are long-term effects. However, there are currently no indications of neurological or psychiatric problems that arise from repeated TMS sessions. Talk with your doctor if you’re concerned about side effects.

TMS Therapy at Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health

We offer transcranial magnetic therapy for our patients here at Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health. We use NeuroStar® technology to ensure each session is safe and comfortable. Check with your insurance provider to see if TMS therapy is covered before seeking treatment.

If you’re interested in pursuing TMS therapy for your depression or other mental health disorders, request an appointment with Dr. Barkat Khan to learn more.

Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Always talk with your doctor before starting or stopping medications or other treatments.


Psychiatry & Behavioral Health

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