Everything You Need to Know About TMS Therapy

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a technique most often used to treat people with depression when previous treatments, such as antidepressant medications, haven't been successful. TMS is a noninvasive therapy that uses magnetic waves to stimulate specific areas of the brain.

This article discusses TMS—the procedure, benefits of treatment, and potential side effects.

transcranial magnetic stimulation

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Procedure for TMS Therapy

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is typically performed in a healthcare provider's office. You'll be seated in a comfortable position and will remain awake during the procedure.

At your first appointment, your provider will determine the treatment location (typically near the forehead) to place a magnetic coil. The coil will be used to deliver a magnetic pulse that stimulates nerve cells in the area of your brain responsible for mood control and depression. Your provider will also determine the appropriate intensity of the magnetic waves for the remainder of your treatments.

TMS therapy is not painful, but you'll hear a clicking sound and feel a tapping sensation on your head during the treatment. Earplugs can help reduce the noise. Treatment typically lasts 20–50 minutes, depending on your specific treatment needs.

TMS treatments are performed five days per week, for about four to six weeks. Treatment is then tapered off. Some people start to notice fewer depression symptoms within the first week, while others require several weeks of treatment to see improvements

How Long Do Results Last?

Results from TMS are not always permanent. However, when symptoms return, TMS therapy can be repeated. On average, positive results from TMS therapy last for a little over a year.

What Are the Benefits of TMS Therapy?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is primarily used to treat people with depression who continue to have symptoms, despite taking medications. While individual results vary, TMS improves depression symptoms in about 50%–60% of people who undergo this treatment.

TMS therapy is also being researched for the treatment of other neurological and mental health conditions such as:

Side Effects of TMS

Transcranial magnetic stimulation can cause side effects, but they are typically mild and temporary. Some people who have TMS therapy do not have any side effects.

Mild Side Effects

The most common side effect is headache. This occurs because muscles in the scalp are stimulated during treatment. TMS can also cause facial pain if certain nerves are stimulated during the procedure.

Some people also experience dizziness or feel light-headed after TMS therapy. Hearing loss could also occur, but using earplugs during treatment can prevent this potential side effect.

Serious Side Effects

The most serious—although rare—potential side effect of TMS is seizure (sudden, uncontrollable electrical disturbances in the brain). A seizure can then lead to other injuries—broken bones, aspiration (inhaling saliva into the lungs), and eventually pneumonia (an infection of the lungs). Seizures can also cause difficulty breathing and cut off oxygen to the brain, potentially causing brain damage.

In extremely rare cases, TMS can also cause mania—a mental condition characterized by hyperactivity and an abnormally elevated mood.

TMS and Age

There is no age requirement for transcranial magnetic stimulation. In fact, research has shown that TMS can be effective in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and teens.

Who Should Not Get TMS?

TMS is not appropriate for everyone. For example, TMS can cause metal implants to heat up, move, or stop working correctly, so people with these devices should not have TMS treatment. These can include:

  • Metal implants in the eyes or ears
  • Metallic-ink tattoos on the face
  • Deep brain stimulators
  • Aneurysm coils or clips
  • Stents in the brain or neck
  • Shrapnel in the head

TMS therapy is also not appropriate for people with epilepsy or other seizure conditions, or for use during pregnancy.

Summary

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive treatment that uses magnetic waves to increase brain activity. TMS is most commonly used to treat people with depression symptoms that have not improved with medications.

However, the use of TMS for other neurological and mental health conditions is being researched. Mild TMS side effects can include headaches, dizziness, and light-headedness. In rare cases, serious side effects such as seizures can occur.

TMS is helpful for most people with depression who receive this treatment. Results are not always permanent, but treatment can be repeated.

A Word From Verywell

Living with depression can negatively impact every aspect of your life. The good news is, effective treatments are available. If you continue to have symptoms of depression despite other treatments, talk to your healthcare provider to see if transcranial magnetic stimulation is appropriate for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does TMS therapy actually work?

    TMS therapy has been shown to help decrease symptoms of depression when medications alone aren't effective.

  • Is TMS effective for anxiety?

    While individual results will vary, TMS therapy can reduce symptoms of anxiety.

  • Can TMS damage your brain?

    TMS does not cause brain damage.

  • Is TMS covered by insurance?

    TMS is often covered by insurance.

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7 Sources
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