Depression is a common, often serious psychological disorder affecting millions of Americans. It causes feelings of profound, unrelenting sadness coupled with a variety of debilitating physical symptoms. Depression is affected and strongly influenced by many environmental and social conditions, but arises from conditions within a person’s brain. These conditions are not completely understood yet, but the activity and functioning of the tissues that work to control mood have been identified as affecting depression.
Medication and psychotherapy are common treatments for depression, with a combination of the two being most effective for moderate and severe depression. However, for some people, medication doesn’t offer significant relief from depression. Medication also takes some time to work, with 4 to 6 weeks being an average time for an antidepressant to start working. Additionally, antidepressant medication can have side effects, including:
- Agitation or feeling shaky
- Feelings of anxiety
- Daytime sleepiness or insomnia at night
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of libido
These side effects usually go away within a few weeks, but sometimes they’re serious enough to warrant a different type of therapy. This is where TMS therapy can provide depression relief.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a form of brain stimulation therapy, treats major depressive disorder by using powerful and precise magnetic fields to stimulate the brain’s neurons, particularly a section of the prefrontal cortex. TMS is non-invasive and requires no sedation. In TMS, repeating pulses of magnetic energy affect brain tissue thought to control mood. Because of the repetitive nature of the pulses, TMS is often referred to as rTMS.
Sessions are conducted in a practitioner’s office. TMS is painless, and does not require anesthesia. A person seeking treatment reclines in a chair and a magnetic head unit, containing an electromagnetic coil, is placed on the forehead. The coil generates a powerful and focused magnetic pulse into the brain, which stimulates the areas of the brain that control mood.
Treatment duration varies depending on each patient, but it usually takes around 6 weeks. Each session lasts about 20 minutes, in which the patient is awake and fully alert. TMS doesn’t interfere with a person’s daily activities and produces no drowsiness, which allows patients to continue with their daily routine and normal activities. Some people continue with their more typical treatment for depression, such as psychotherapy, while undergoing TMS.
About one-third of people who receive treatment with TMS experience total and lasting relief of their depression symptoms, while 58 percent experience significant relief of their depressive symptoms. A recent study of people with treatment-resistant major depression who received TMS therapy showed 68 percent of participants still showing significant improvement after one year, and an amazing 45 percent continuing in total remission of depression after one year.
TMS has numerous benefits in comparison with traditional approaches:
- TMS is noninvasive. No surgery, no pills, no potential interactions with other medications.
- The side effects of TMS are minimal: mild headaches, tingling of the scalp, and lightheadedness being the most common.
- Treatment can be planned for. Twenty minutes 5 times a week over a month is usually enough to deliver lasting remission.
- Complete remission lasting several months, up to a year for some people, has been reported.
TMS offers convenience, safety, and effectiveness in treating depression. To top it off, it is covered by most major insurance companies, Medicare and TRICARE.
This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.
Brain Stimulation Therapies. (2020, August 18). https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/brain-stimulation-therapies/brain-stimulation-therapies.shtml.
Brunk, D. (2020, March 3). rTMS for depression continues to evolve. https://www.mdedge.com/psychiatry/article/218294/depression/rtms-depression-continues-evolve.
Cassells, C. (2013, May 24). TMS for Resistant Depression: Long-term Results Are In. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/804736.
Haesebaert, F. (2018). Usefulness of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation as a maintenance treatment in patients with major depression. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15622975.2016.1255353.
Major Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved August 14, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml