What is TMS Therapy?

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Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive, FDA approved procedure that uses magnetic resonance to target specific parts of the brain.

Magnetic field pulses and electrical currents stimulate nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, which has proven to effectively treat conditions such as drug addiction and depression. 

TMS Therapy

TMS therapy is not an instantaneous treatment. It causes gradual changes in the brain over time and must be given on an on-going basis. It is usually applied for thirty minutes at a time, five days a week, for six to eight weeks. Due to the need for this prolonged exposure, this therapy is sometimes referred to as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, or rTMS.

Repetitive TMS is typically used when other treatments have not been effective for patients.

TMS Therapy Side Effects

There are very few side effects of TMS therapy, and very few patients discontinue treatment because of them. The most common side effects that do occur are typically mild and include:

  • Headache
  • Twitching of the face
  • Scalp discomfort 
  • Short-term hearing impairment
  • Risk of seizures (though these are exceedingly rare)

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What Does TMS Therapy Treat?

TMS therapy is mainly used to treat major depressive disorders, but it is also used to treat other conditions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Drug addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Stroke rehabilitation

TMS Therapy for Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

TMS therapy is a generally safe and effective treatment for alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) and drug addiction (substance use disorder). The magnetic pulses have been shown to calm the areas of the brain that cause cravings. By targeting these areas, patients can break free from addiction without using pharmaceutical pills, which can have more adverse side effects than TMS therapy. 

TMS Therapy for Anxiety

TMS therapy has shown promising results when treating anxiety. It is especially useful when other types of treatments, such as pharmaceuticals, have failed. TMS therapy does not completely suppress anxiety, but it reduces symptoms and can lead to significant improvements for patients. 

TMS Therapy for Depression

Treatment of depression is the most common use of TMS therapy. It is particularly helpful for treatment-resistant depression that is not responding to antidepressant medications. TMS therapy usually takes a few weeks before patients feel any noticeable improvements. Depression symptoms gradually begin to fade with consistent treatment.  

TMS Therapy Pros and Cons

Pros of TMS Therapy

The benefits of TMS therapy include:

  • Well-tolerated treatment
  • Non-invasive
  • No possibility of addiction
  • Less severe side effects than other treatments
  • High efficacy

Cons of TMS Therapy

The downsides of TMS therapy include:

  • Still a relatively new treatment option
  • Requires a substantial time commitment
  • No data on long-term effects

TMS Therapy Cost

TMS therapy’s average cost is between $400 and $500 per session, with a total cost of around $15,000 for a full course of treatment. 

This is considerably less than the most comparable treatment, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which costs about $2,500 per treatment session and requires a full ten sessions. You would also have to factor in the cost of a weeklong hospital stay for ECT treatment, which is not needed with TMS therapy. 

What is the success rate of TMS therapy?

Most TMS therapies have a success rate of 70 to 80 percent.

What are the benefits of TMS?

Generally, TMS therapy is a safe and effective treatment for alcoholism (alcohol use disorder) and drug addiction (substance use disorder). This therapy is also well-tolerated, non-invasive, non-addictive, and produces less severe side effects than other treatments.

How long do the effects of TMS treatment last?

Each individual's level of depression is unique, so it is difficult to determine how long TMS treatment will last. Some patients have mild to moderate depression, while others struggle with severe depression. However, most patients who let the treatment run its full course see improvements in their symptoms for six months to a year+.

Can TMS make you worse?

There is no evidence that suggests TMS treatment can make anxiety or depression symptoms worse.

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Resources +

NIMH. “Brain Stimulation Therapies.” National Institute of Mental Health https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/brain-stimulation-therapies/brain-stimulation-therapies.shtml

Janicak, Philip G, and Mehmet E Dokucu. “Transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of major depression.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment vol. 11 1549-60. 26 Jun. 2015, doi:10.2147/NDT.S67477, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4492646/

Chail, Amit et al. “Transcranial magnetic stimulation: A review of its evolution and current applications.” Industrial psychiatry journal vol. 27,2 (2018): 172-180. doi:10.4103/ipj.ipj_88_18, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31359968/

NIAAA. “Rehabilitating the Addicted Brain With Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism https://niaaa.scienceblog.com/67/rehabilitating-the-addicted-brain-with-transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/

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