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What is TMS and How Can it Help Treat Depression?

Millions of people across the globe struggle with depression every day. It’s one of the most common mental health issues and can significantly impact your daily life. Dealing with depression makes everyday tasks that much more difficult, especially when you no longer feel fulfillment from activities you used to enjoy. Depression is a serious illness, and it often goes untreated or improperly treated.

teen depression and anxiety

Talking with a therapist about the underlying causes of depression is important, but therapy doesn’t always solve the problem. Most people with depression are prescribed antidepressant medication, which is surprisingly ineffective and unreliable for how widely it is used. Finding the right antidepressant is more or less a crapshoot; Over two-thirds of individuals with depression do not experience relief from the first antidepressant they try, and each following medication is only less likely to provide relief. Additionally, medications like SSRI’s often come with a bundle of mysterious and potentially debilitating side effects. The process of jumping from medication to medication until you find one that works well enough is challenging and exhausting. These medications also promote complete dependence, as users stop experiencing relief as soon as they stop taking the drug.

Outside of traditional antidepressants, treatment options remain slim. However, TMS is one of the lesser known treatment alternatives now rising in popularity and accessibility.

What is TMS?

TMS stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation. This process, first developed in the 80’s as a tool for neural activity measurement in clinical trials, involves sending magnetic pulses through the scalp in order to activate a neural response in a specific area of the brain. While it may sound complicated, it is completely safe and non-invasive.

Depression is known to be related to reduced neural activity in certain areas of the brain. When used for depression treatment, the magnetic pulses target these neural areas in order to stimulate neural activity. There are different types of TMS, such as single-pulse or repeated-pulse, which simply refer to the number and frequency of the magnetic pulses administered. Most TMS clinics like TMS & BrainHealth use theta burst stimulation or Express TMS, in which the magnetic frequency mimics your brain waves in order to promote neuroplasticity.

Is TMS Effective?

Clinical trials show that TMS is one of the most consistently effective treatments for depression available today. Almost all sham-controlled trials studying TMS show that the treatment is effective for over 50% of patients, and can have significant effects with as little as 2 weeks of treatment. Observing treatments in clinical practice also shows us similar results; almost 40% of patients who receive TMS from a certified clinic achieve full remission, or are completely relieved of depression symptoms.

Even if you don’t reach complete remission, TMS is effective for most patients and is one of the only treatment options that can offer long lasting symptom relief after the treatment period has ended. Some patients experience relief for many months before starting another treatment session.

Is TMS Safe?

TMS is an extremely safe process with minimal side effects. During treatment, most patients report feeling a mild tapping sensation or sensitivity on the scalp. After treatment, some patients report lightheadedness or a mild headache, which often subsides quickly or within a few hours after treatment. TMS poses an extremely small (<.001%) risk of seizure, and therefore is not recommended for individuals with predisposed risk of seizure such as epilepsy or a history of head injury. Additionally, you may not be eligible for TMS if you have a metal implant of any kind.

When you receive TMS treatment, a clinic should work with you to create a personalized treatment plan. Typically, a treatment plan involves 30 sessions in total over the course of 6 weeks. Treatment sessions usually last about 20 to 40 minutes depending on the type of TMS, including time to calibrate the machine.

TMS is a groundbreaking new option for people struggling with depression, especially cases that are resistant to other forms of treatment. This alternative is also being studied and is currently available as an option for a variety of other mental illnesses including anxiety, PTSD, and OCD, as well as chronic pain such as migraines. Depending on your medical history, the cost of TMS can even be covered by your insurance company. As the research continues to grow, this treatment option is becoming more accessible to those who need it most.

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