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Published on: 27 Jan 2018 by mytips

What is TMS Therapy and How Does it Work?

There’s no one treatment for depression that works for everyone. In fact, most patients are prescribed a variety of antidepressants in hopes of finding one that lessens symptoms with acceptable side effects. But, for those patients with severe or long-term depression, medication and psychotherapy aren’t usually effective. When this occurs, some seek brain stimulation treatment like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Never heard of it? You’ve come to the right article. Keep reading to learn about the history of TMS, how it works, and the benefits and risks associated with this type of treatment.

The History of TMS Therapy

Electrophysiological studies have widened and improved the understanding of how the brain works. This study has also made huge contributions to a variety of therapeutic treatments, including the use of brain stimulation to treat depression and other psychological health conditions. TMS dates back to the 1980s and the first studies were conducted in the late 1990s. But, it wasn't until 2008 that the therapy was cleared by the FDA as a viable treatment for depression.

While TMS continues to gain traction, this treatment isn’t one of the first options that doctors will choose. It’s best to exhaust other treatment options first, such as medication, psychotherapy, or combination therapy to see if less-involved options are effective.

How It Works

So what is TMS therapy and how does it work? Here’s all the information you need to know about this brain stimulation treatment.

In its simplest form, TMS uses magnetism to stimulate targeted regions in the brain. Specifically, the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex area of the brain is targeted. During the procedure, a coil, which acts as a magnetic field generator, is placed near the head. The coil then produces small electric currents in the area of the brain right below where the coil is placed.

But how do electric currents in the brain treat depression? People who suffer from depression have several underactive regions in the brain. These regions are interconnected and form a mood regulatory network. For those with depression, the network is dysfunctional. By introducing electric currents into the brain, normal function can be restored to these areas. This happens because the electric current increases activity in the underactive parts of the brain. In turn, the brain's natural antidepressant effect is activated.

Benefits & Risks

There are all sorts of benefits to TMS therapy. One of the top benefits is the fact that this form of therapy can be effective and safe. Some patients experience improvement in depression symptoms after just a few sessions. TMS therapy, unlike other forms of brain stimulation procedures, is non-invasive. There is no use of anesthesia and cognitive as well as systemic side effects are extremely rare. In fact, the treatment has shown to improve cognitive function!

If you're undergoing TMS treatments, you'll be able to drive yourself to and from the outpatient center. This means you can continue to work and partake in other daily activities when undergoing TMS therapy. Though risks are rare, there are some post-treatment symptoms to be aware of. Most patients complain of:

  • Headache
  • Neck pain
  • Scalp discomfort

The good news is that these problems can be quickly treated using an over-the-counter medication.

One of the biggest risks associated with TMS is seizure. If you have epilepsy or have had a seizure in the past, TMS is likely not an advisable treatment. However, it’s worth mentioning that the risk of a seizure occurring is 1 in 1000 patients. To minimize this risk, be open about any past brain health issues when discussing treatment options with your doctor.

Why TMS?

After reading about TMS, most people are a little unsure about the idea of having an electric current generated in their brain. While this treatment option is definitely advanced and much different than taking a pill, TMS has proven to be effective and extremely safe. The risks are minimal as are the side effects of treatment.

For those who haven’t responded well to other forms of treatment such as medication or psychotherapy, TMS may be one of the few options left. With this said, TMS isn’t the go-to treatment for those who suffer from depression. This therapy is only recommended to patients who have first tried other forms of treatment that have not worked. TMS may also be recommended to those who need immediate effects as well as for patients who are unable to tolerate the side effects of antidepressants.


Severe and long-term depression requires proper treatment so that patients can get back to living happy and healthy lives. Because medications aren’t the quick fix answer for everyone depression sufferer, it’s important to know about alternative treatment options like TMS to ensure that patients can experience the symptom relief they deserve.



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