Transcranial Magnetic stimulation - FAQ

What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the parts of the brain that are associated with depression and other brain disorders, and produces relief without medication. TMS is a noninvasive treatment using magnetic coils to produce small electric currents.

Why does TMS work?

TMS has been shown to produce changes in neuronal activity in regions of the brain implicated in mood regulation, such as the prefrontal cortex. As each magnetic pulse passes through the skull and into the brain, this induces brief activity of brain cells underlying the treatment coil. The frequency of pulse delivery also influences whether brain activity is increased or decreased by a session of TMS. Recent studies also suggest that stimulation over the left and right sides of the brain can have opposite effects on mood regulation.

Who needs TMS?

The FDA has approved TMS as an effective and proven treatment for depression in 2008. Promising, new studies indicate that TMS may also be effective for addictive disorders. 

What happens during an TMS procedure?

Because TMS uses magnetic pulses, before beginning a treatment, patients are asked to remove any magnetic-sensitive objects (such as jewelry, credit cards). Patients are required to wear earplugs during treatment for their comfort and hearing protection, as TMS produces a loud clicking sound with each pulse, much like an MRI machine. Patients are seated during each session of TMS. During the first TMS session, several measurements are made to ensure that the TMS coil will be properly positioned over the patient’s head. Once this is done, the TMS coil is suspended over the patient’s scalp. The TMS physician then measures the patient’s motor threshold, by administering several brief pulses. The motor threshold is the minimum amount of power necessary to make the patient’s thumb twitch, and varies from individual to individual. Measuring the motor threshold helps the physician personalize the treatment settings and determine the amount of energy required to stimulate brain cells. Once the motor threshold is determined, the coil is then brought forward so that it rests above the front region of the patient’s brain. Treatment is then commenced. During the treatment, patients will hear a series of clicking sounds and will feel a tapping sensation under the treatment coil. Motor threshold is not checked at every treatment but may be reassessed if there is concern it may have changed, for example, because of a change in medication.

How long is an TMS procedure?

Repetitive TMS therapy, or “rTMS,” involves a series of treatment sessions. Treatment sessions vary in length depending on the TMS coil used and the number of pulses delivered but typically last between 30 – 40 minutes. Treatments are administered 5 days a week. A typical course of rTMS lasts between 3 and 6 weeks. However, treatment courses can vary depending on individual response.

What are the side-effects of rTMS?

 rTMS is well-tolerated and associated with few side-effects and only a small percentage of patients discontinue treatment because of these. The most common side-effect, which is reported in about half of patients treated with rTMS, is headaches. These are mild and generally diminish over the course of the treatment. Over-the-counter pain medication can be used to treat these headaches. About one third of patients may experience painful scalp sensations or facial twitching with rTMS pulses. These too, tend to diminish over the course of treatment although adjustments can be made immediately in coil positioning and stimulation settings to reduce discomfort. The rTMS machine produces a loud noise and because of this earplugs are given to patients to use during the treatment. However, some patients may still complain of hearing problems immediately following treatment. No evidence suggests these effects are permanent if earplugs are worn during the treatment. rTMS has not been associated with many of the side-effects caused by antidepressant medications, such as gastrointestinal upset, dry mouth, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, or sedation. The most serious risk of rTMS is seizures. However, the risk of a seizure is exceedingly low. Durango Recovery Center and associated TMS Durango, follow up-to-date safety guidelines that are designed to minimize the risk of seizures. While rTMS is a safe procedure, it is important to point out that because it is a new treatment, there may be unforeseeable risks that are not currently recognized.