Transcranial stimulation (TMS) therapy is a non-invasive psychiatric intervention that uses electromagnetic pulses to treat a range of mental disorder symptoms. TMS is a safe, FDA-approved treatment method that’s most effective for mental health patients who are treatment-resistant to psychiatric medication.
Research studies have shown that a majority of those for whom medication wasn’t effective reported significant mood improvement following TMS treatment. Of those with improved mood, about a third of patients also reported full remission from their negative mood symptoms.
Are you curious about whether or not TMS therapy is a great fit for you? Read down below to learn everything you need to know to determine if TMS could provide relief for your mental disorder symptoms:
- What you need to know about TMS
- How to find TMS providers
- What it’s like to be a TMS patient
What You Need to Know About TMS Therapy
What is TMS Therapy?
The science behind TMS therapy is based on the transmission of electromagnetic pulses that permeate the skull. Running electricity through a coil can create a magnetic field that affects the activity of neurons in the brain. Since the brain uses electrical currents to communicate and influence its essential functions, the pulses delivered through a TMS device can adjust areas of irregular brain chemistry. TMS devices function by using a treatment coil that is positioned and suspended over the patient’s head, and a series of clicking sounds indicates the electromagnetic pulses being transmitted.
Psychiatric research conducted during the mid-1900s compiled evidence of TMS therapy’s treatment of depression symptoms. Patients in these studies showed significant improvement in mood that was comparable to the effects of antidepressant medication.
Once the therapeutic science behind TMS therapy became further substantiated by research studies, the FDA approved the first TMS equipment in 2008. It was indicated that the treatment would be specific to patients who showed failed responses to psychiatric medication.
What Does TMS Therapy Treat?
Following the research studies that substantiated the relieving effects of TMS on depression symptoms, psychiatric researchers continued to study the treatment method with other mental health diagnoses.
Overall, research has proven the therapeutic effects of TMS therapy on depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. TMS therapy is able to target and regulate the areas of brain chemistry associated with symptoms of these disorders.
Symptoms of depression include persistent sad mood, disturbance to sleep patterns, and lack of interest in everyday activities. Antidepressants are a common treatment option as the medications affect the brain areas and neurotransmitters that influence mood. When depression patients’ symptoms show resistance to interventions such as psychotherapy and medications, TMS therapy is able to target brain areas affiliated with the symptoms.
Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety (GAD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) have disparate symptoms but are associated with some similar brain areas. GAD is defined by irritability and tense mood that can culminate into panic attacks, while OCD symptoms generally include anxiety-inducing thoughts followed by compulsive behaviors.
Benzodiazepines and antidepressants are typically prescribed for these disorders to reduce symptoms of anxiety response and mood change. However, TMS therapy can also address the overactive and irregular brain activity that can culminate in anxiety disorder symptoms.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined by symptoms of intense anxiety in response to a relived traumatic experience. Antidepressants and psychotherapy are common treatment options to address the anxious and depressive symptoms of PTSD, but not everyone responds to these interventions. TMS therapy can help regulate activity in the brain areas shown to be related to PTSD symptoms.
TMS Therapy Providers + How to Find Them
TMS therapy is typically performed in a doctor’s office or outpatient TMS clinic, and most popular insurance plans cover TMS therapy. However, always check to make sure your insurance policy covers the therapy. TMS treatment entails a series of TMS sessions to effectively reduce mental disorder symptoms, and the duration of these sessions varies per treatment plan.
It’s recommended that patients show treatment resistance to pharmaceutical mental health interventions before considering TMS therapy, but your insurance provider may ultimately decide whether or not a psychiatrist referral is needed to start TMS. Regardless, a psychiatrist can help you locate a TMS therapy provider who will accept your insurance.
There are also a variety of other online resources for locating TMS providers near you. Most insurance companies have searchable, online directories of the offices and clinics that accept their insurance for various treatments. TMS device producers also offer online directories of the clinics that utilize their brand of devices that potential patients may prefer.
What To Expect as a TMS Patient
The experience of TMS as a noninvasive method of brain stimulation treatment involves safe and well-tolerated sessions for patients. Unlike electroconvulsive therapy, TMS doesn’t lead to seizures or require the use of anesthesia.
A consultation appointment is typically the first step in receiving TMS therapy after locating a provider--this appointment determines whether or not TMS therapy is appropriate, provides information about the procedures, and addresses other important details in starting treatment.
During an initial TMS treatment appointment, patients are seated in a reclining chair and handed earplugs to wear during the procedure. Then the electromagnetic coil of the TMS device is placed against the patient’s head while the most effective placement of the coil is determined. This mapping process entails the device repeatedly turning off and on as tapping or clicking sounds result in a tapping sensation on the patient’s scalp. It’s essential that the patient remains still throughout the procedure to ensure that the skull doesn’t miss any pulses.
With the pulses, the TMS technician will test to find the patient’s motor threshold, which is the dose of electromagnetic pulses that causes the fingers or hands to twitch. This will help customize the procedure for each patient and ensure that there is as little discomfort as possible for patients.
It can take time for some patients to adjust and get used to the feeling of magnetic stimulation since it’s not a sensation commonplace to the average person. But as more treatment sessions are completed, the sensations from the procedure can become more tolerable.
The duration of TMS sessions averages around 40 minutes. The frequency of the TMS appointments for a patient varies per treatment plan but typically requires multiple sessions per week. TMS requires a consistent and reliable time commitment to produce the most effective symptom relief for patients.
Side Effects and Post-Treatment Information
A characteristic of TMS that makes it such a fitting alternative to psychiatric medication is its short list of side effects. A majority of TMS patients don’t report side effects, but headaches during and following a TMS session along with scalp irritation are potential side effects. This offers a much more comfortable treatment experience for TMS patients compared to medications alone, which typically affect patients’ appetite, mood, and weight.
The TMS procedure doesn’t have any effect on patients’ cognition, making it safe for patients to drive from every session and resume their normal daily activities following an appointment. With TMS being a non-pharmaceutical treatment, patients can continue taking medications while receiving TMS treatment. TMS can be effective in combination with other treatments, such as medication or psychotherapy.
Similar to medication, it can take between three and four weeks for patients to feel the effects of TMS therapy. If no significant change in mood or symptoms take effect after four weeks, a remapping session may be scheduled to readjust aspects of the patient’s treatment plan. Whether the TMS device coil needs to be repositioned or the frequency of sessions needs to be changed, patients can be assured that their TMS experience will be customized for the best effects.
The progress of a TMS patient’s treatment is typically measured with a questionnaire conducted weekly by a TMS technician. The survey of questions inquires about the severity of the patient’s mental disorder symptoms. The TMS technician will also check the patient for physical signs of symptoms to measure the effectiveness of symptom relief.
With this wealth of information about TMS therapy, you should be equipped to decide whether or not the treatment method sounds appealing to you. A mental health professional is best equipped to confirm TMS as being beneficial for symptoms, but patients should never be afraid to read about treatment options available to them. It can be difficult to grapple with severe, treatment-resistant mental disorder symptoms, but never feel as though there is no help out there for you.