Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation FAQs
What is TMS Therapy?
TMS stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation. It is used to treat depression by stimulating the brain non-invasively using electromagnetic fields, similar to those produced by an MRI machine. During TMS Therapy, a magnetic field is administered in very short pulses to the part of the brain that research has demonstrated to be associated with depression. The typical initial course of treatment is about 19-37 minutes daily over 4-6 weeks.
How does TMS Therapy work?
The TMS Therapy system uses short pulses of magnetic fields to stimulate the area of the brain that is thought to function abnormally in patients with depression. The magnetic field produces an electric current in the brain that stimulates the brain cells (neurons). This results in changes that are thought to be beneficial in the treatment of depression.
Is TMS therapy covered by my insurance?
It usually takes time for healthcare insurers to establish coverage policies for newly approved treatments such as TMS. However, many commercial and Medicare plans have recognized the effectiveness of treating depression with TMS Therapy and now cover TMS as part of their plans. See here for a full list of insurance plans that cover TMS.
Is TMS Therapy a good alternative for patients who cannot tolerate the side effects associated with antidepressant medications?
TMS Therapy is non-systemic (does not circulate in the blood throughout the body), so it does not have side effects such as weight gain, sexual dysfunction, nausea, dry mouth, sedation, etc. The most common side effects reported during clinical trials were headache and scalp discomfort – generally mild to moderate – occurring less frequently after the first week of treatment.
Is TMS Therapy like other alternative therapies which use magnets to treat some illnesses?
No. TMS Therapy involves a unique method of using pulsed magnetic fields for therapeutic benefit. The intensity of the magnetic field is similar to that of the magnetic fields used in magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. These techniques differ radically from the popular use of low intensity, static magnetic fields. These products deliver weak and undirected static fields that are not capable of activating brain cells.
Is TMS Therapy like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?
No, the two procedures are very different. While both are effective in the treatment of depression, there are many differences in safety and tolerability.
During TMS Therapy, patients sit in a chair and are awake and alert throughout the entire 37-minute procedure – no sedation is used with TMS Therapy. Patients can transport themselves to and from treatment.
In over 10,000 active treatments with TMS Therapy in clinical trials, no seizures were observed. TMS Therapy was also shown to have no negative effects on memory function in these studies.
In contrast, “shock therapy,” or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), intentionally causes a seizure. Patients receiving ECT must be sedated with general anesthesia and paralyzed with muscle relaxants. Recovery from an ECT treatment session occurs slowly, and patients are usually closely monitored for minutes or a even few hours after a treatment.
Short-term confusion and memory loss are common with ECT, and long-term disruptions in memory have been shown to occur and may persist indefinitely in some people. Because of the side effects associated with ECT, a significant amount of caregiver support is required.
Can TMS Therapy cause brain tumors?
No, TMS Therapy uses the same type and strength of magnetic fields as MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), which have been used in tens of millions of patients around the world and have not been shown to cause tumors. The magnetic energy used in a full course of TMS Therapy is a small fraction of just one brain scan with an MRI.
Does TMS Therapy cause memory loss?
No, the TMS Therapy was systematically evaluated for its effects on memory. Clinical trials demonstrated that TMS Therapy does not result in any negative effects on memory or concentration.
Is TMS Therapy uncomfortable?
No, the most common side effect related to treatment was scalp discomfort during treatment sessions. This side effect was generally mild to moderate, and occurred less frequently after the first week of treatment.
If necessary, you can treat this discomfort with an over-the-counter analgesic. If these side effects persist, your doctor can temporarily reduce the strength of the magnetic field pulses being administered in order to make treatment more comfortable.
Less than 5% of patients treated with TMS Therapy discontinued treatment due to side effects.
How long does the antidepressant effect last? Will I need any therapy beyond the first treatment regimen?
In a clinical trial, 2 out of 3 patients who had either responded to treatment or completely remitted their depression symptoms reported 12 months later that they remained at the level they were at the end of the trial. Additionally, after the trial, only 1 in 3 patients needed to return for ‘maintenance’ TMS sessions.
Can I also take antidepressant(s) if I am receiving TMS Therapy?
Yes. In clinical trials, TMS Therapy was safely administered with and without other antidepressant medications.