The Risks of TMS: Fears vs. Facts

The Risks of TMS: Fears vs. Facts

Depression can be debilitating and difficult to manage. People who struggle with depression exhibit structural irregularities in the parts of the brain that regulate emotion, as well as abnormalities in the way these parts of the brain communicate. The neurological causes of depression are complex, and conventional approaches to treatment are not always effective.


Most doctors recommend psychotherapy and medication as the first course of action for treating depression. The efficacy of these methods varies. Outcomes depend on the individual as well as their diagnosis.


When traditional approaches cannot provide relief, patients may feel hopeless. Fortunately, there are other options. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is a noninvasive procedure that stimulates brain cells in areas that are affected by depression. It has been shown to significantly improve mood in depressed patients.


TMS Is Not Shock Therapy

Many people confuse TMS with electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. However, these two therapies are vastly different.


TMS uses short magnetic pulses to stimulate areas of the brain that exhibit low activity levels in people with depression. These magnetic pulses induce a flow of very small electrical charges, which are too minuscule for the patient to feel. These electrical charges activate neurons and cause them to fire, reactivating the targeted area to improve mood.


ECT is usually conducted in a hospital setting while the patient is under general anesthesia. The procedure involves passing controlled electrical currents through the brain, resulting in a short seizure. Although ECT was invented in the 1930s, doctors still don’t completely understand how exactly it works to improve symptoms of depression. However, they do know that ECT usually works quickly and doesn’t damage the brain’s structure.


In contrast, TMS treatments can be administered in an outpatient setting. During TMS treatment, a coil is placed on the exterior of the patient’s head to administer small magnetic pulses. The procedure is noninvasive and does not involve anesthesia. It also does not negatively impact cognition or memory, and does not induce a seizure. The patient can stay awake throughout the session and even converse, listen to music, or watch TV.


Regular TMS Can Improve Depression When Nothing Else Works

Research shows that TMS is safe and well-tolerated. In a study of patients with pharmacoresistant major depression, a statistically significant improvement in functionality and quality of life was observed in participants who received 6 weeks of active TMS treatment compared to control-group participants who received sham TMS treatments.


Similar benefits were also noted in patients who entered the open-label extension study, and these improvements were sustained across the 24-week follow-up study.


TMS Risks May Be Lower Than Side Effects of Medication and Other Treatments

Nearly all forms of treatment for depression are associated with side effects. Even psychotherapy can cause adverse consequences. In many cases, the risks of neglecting to treat depression are worse than the side effects that treatments may cause.


TMS usually has fewer side effects than antidepressants and other brain stimulation therapies.  Antidepressants are associated with a wide range of side effects, including fatigue, loss of libido, weight problems, insomnia, and anxiety.


In addition, patients who are treated with pharmaceuticals for an extended period of time may become resistant to them.


What Side Effects Are Associated With TMS?

The side effects associated with TMS are usually mild. They typically diminish after the session is over and later cease with ongoing treatment.


The most common side effect of TMS is mild scalp discomfort during the session. During TMS, magnetic pulses can sometimes cause the patient’s facial muscles to twitch. This may trigger

short-lived headaches, lightheadedness, or a tingling sensation across the scalp.


However, your physician can adjust the strength and frequency of these magnetic pulses to reduce or eliminate these symptoms. At Mid City TMS, we take every precaution to ensure that treatment is as comfortable as possible.


With TMS, memory loss is not a concern. TMS has been studied for its ability to improve cognitive function in people with stroke damage or Alzheimer’s Disease.


The National Institute of Mental Health reports that there is a slight seizure risk associated with this therapy. TMS-related seizures are rare. The TMS seizure risk may be higher in patients who are sleep deprived or taking certain medications.


Contact Mid City TMS to Learn More

If you’re interested in learning more about how TMS, contact us today. We’re happy to help you figure out it TMS therapy is right for you.

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