Side Effects and Risks of TMS Therapy

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It is common for people who receive treatment for any kind of medical condition to have questions and concerns about the risks and side effects of that treatment. When it comes to TMS therapy, risks and side effects should not be a concern. 

What is TMS Therapy?

TMS is a non-invasive, outpatient based, brain stimulation therapy. It targets the prefrontal cortex by placing magnetic coils onto your forehead. It sends magnetic pulses specifically to the left prefrontal cortex. These impulses stimulate nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, as this area is often responsible for controlling mood. Research and clinical trials show that these impulses positively impact neurotransmitters in the brain that results in a decrease in symptoms of depression for an extended period of time. 

TMS Therapy Side Effects

One of the most exciting benefits of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy (TMS) is the fact that it is regarded as a well-tolerated procedure and has minimal to zero side effects. Any brain stimulation treatment for Major Depressive Disorder can, on the surface, appear scary or risky. However, research and results show it’s effective and has minimal risk of side effects. 

TMS should be one of your first choices for treatment, as the low risk and lack of side effects is very appealing. Another clear advantage to TMS therapy is that since it is a non-invasive procedure, it is done completely on an outpatient basis that requires no down time after the treatments. 

The most common side effect reported is headaches and application site irritation. Johns Hopkins Medicine describes these headaches as typically mild and generally diminish over the course of treatment. This can easily be treated with general over the counter medications. About one third of participants may experience scalp pain or discomfort at the treatment application site. Some participants noticed facial tingling and twitching. However, all of these symptoms are also likely to diminish over the course of treatment. 

The application site of the magnets onto the forehead can be slightly adjusted to avoid these possible side effects in the future, but still provide a positive impact on depression symptoms. Other adverse effects include lightheadedness and possible hearing loss. Since the machine that produces the stimulation treatment can be loud, ear plugs or other adequate hearing protection is provided during your treatment. If you have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, a manic episode can be triggered from treatment, although this is very uncommon and unlikely. 

The most serious of all side effects and risks of TMS therapy are seizures. However, the overall risk of a seizure is very low. If you have a history of seizures, however, TMS may not be the best treatment for you, and consultation with your doctor or team is necessary. People with any kind of non-removable metal implant in the head are contraindicated for TMS as well. There are exceptions to dental braces or fillings in your teeth. 

It’s important to note that the risk of seizure as a side effect from depression medications is higher than the risk of a seizure from participating in TMS. Overall, these risks are more theoretical than realistic.

Any side effects that are experienced during TMS treatments appear to vastly outweigh many of the debilitating symptoms of depression. Also, these side effects are largely temporary and less severe than other side effects you may experience from other antidepressant interventions. Discuss with your treatment providers if these side effects and/or risks are pertinent to you. TMS therapy is a quick, non-invasive, effective way to manage your depression, with the huge benefit of having no side effects. 

This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer.

Works Cited

Mayo Clinic. (2018c, November 27). Transcranial magnetic stimulation – Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/about/pac-20384625

Mennitto, D. (2019, February 5). Frequently Asked Questions About TMS at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/specialty_areas/brain_stimulation/tms/faq_tms.html

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