Some Frequently Asked Questions about TMS

What is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)?

TMS is a perfectly safe, FDA approved, non-invasive and drug-free treatment that uses a magnetic pulse to stimulate nerve cells in key areas of the brain that is thought to control mood. TMS stimulates the part of the brain that is under-active in people with depression.

How does TMS Work?

TMS treatment process involves placing a small electromagnetic coil against the scalp near the forehead. Magnetic pulses are then delivered to a specific area of the brain to stimulate the nerve cells there. These magnetic pulses are the same type and strength as that of an MRI machine. Treatment sessions last 20-30 minutes and the first 25 sessions must be done 5 times per week for the first 5 weeks. The remaining sessions can be tapered over a period of weeks.

Is Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) the same as TMS?

No, ECT, commonly referred to as “shock therapy”, uses electricity to produce seizure-like activity in the brain while the patient is under anesthesia and has side effects that can be substantial. They both relieve depression, however, TMS is a treatment that is performed while the patient is awake and alert, no anesthesia or sedation is needed. TMS uses magnetic energy, rather than electricity that is applied to the scalp.

Is TMS painful?

There is a tapping sensation on your scalp that may be uncomfortable for some during the first few treatment sessions.  Up to 50 percent of patients who receive TMS will experience some mild to moderate soreness on their head at the beginning of their treatment. Taking over-the-counter pain medicines such as aspirin or Tylenol can be used, before or after TMS sessions, to relieve the discomfort. Further into the treatment the scalp becomes less sensitive to the tapping sensation of the magnetic pluses and there is no more discomfort.

Does TMS have side effects?

TMS virtually has no side effects, compared to other treatments for depression.  During the first week, studies have shown that about one in five people will develop a mild to moderate headache or scalp soreness after they receive TMS

How long does it take TMS to work?

Everyone is different so it depends on the person. There are a few factors that influence how well people respond to TMS therapy like age, personality, treatment resistance and what their current antidepressant regimen is. Some feel a change in symptoms as early as the first week of treatment, while others don’t notice a change for several weeks later.

How long do the effects of TMS treatment last?

Depression is usually a combination of factors that alter the way a person’s brain functions. Because of the various factors that influence each person’s depression, there’s no definitive answer to how long TMS results will last. Studies have shown that approximately 50% of patients with treatment resistant depression who try TMS experience a meaningful improvement in their mood, and one third experience full remission.

How successful is TMS?

TMS has a success rate between 70% or 80% meaning that the vast majority of individuals find significant relief after treatment.  About 50% of people experience complete remission, meaning that the symptoms of depression are absent after just one course of treatment.