What Is TMS Therapy? And 10 Other Frequently Asked Questions

What is TMS? Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation TMS is shown on a photo using the textFor centuries, physicians have sought the most effective ways to treat conditions such as major depression, general anxiety, and OCD. Chemical imbalances in your brain, resulting in underactive or overactive areas in the brain, are often the root cause of these conditions. While there are no cures for these conditions, there are ways to reduce the severity of your symptoms in the long term, allowing you to take back control of your mind and your life.

For many people, a combination of psychotherapy (for example, cognitive behavior therapy) and medications to correct the brain’s chemical imbalances (such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs) prove successful as a form of treatment.

However, if medication is not a solution for you for any reason—whether you are pregnant and cannot take medication, for example, if you have adverse reactions to SSRIs or intolerance of their side effects, or if medication just hasn’t worked for you—then TMS therapy could be especially helpful to you as a treatment for your depression.


Frequently Asked Questions About TMS


What is TMS?

TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) is a non-invasive, non-drug, outpatient form of brain stimulation therapy used as a treatment for major depression and other disorders, such as general anxiety disorder (GAD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The majority of scientific research regarding TMS therapy examines its effectiveness as a treatment for major depression for people whose condition has resisted treatment by medication and psychotherapy on their own.

TMS therapy has been an FDA approved form of treatment for depression since 2008, and today is used in over 900 practices worldwide to help people overcome the symptoms of major depression. Research has also shown that TMS can be an especially effective treatment for GAD and OCD as well.

What does TMS do?

TMS therapy functions similarly to an MRI. Both generate short pulses of strong, concentrated magnetic fields into your body. However, while an MRI is for creating detailed images of the brain and other internal organs, TMS generates magnetic fields and applies them directly to the part of your brain associated with mood regulation. These magnetic fields stimulate this part of your brain to induce neuroplasticity and encourage your brain to reorganize itself.

The result is a noticeable reduction in severity or wholesale elimination of the symptoms of your condition for an extended period of time. Everybody’s experience with TMS therapy is different, because everybody’s brain is different. For most people, TMS leads to long-lasting relief and reduction in the symptoms of their depression.

How does TMS work in the brain?

The magnetic fields generated in TMS therapy penetrate only about 2 to 4 centimeters into the left prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that regulates your mood. For conditions such as depression and anxiety, imbalances in this part of the brain are largely responsible for their associated symptoms. The magnetic fields produce very small electrical currents in the brain with each pulse. Each of these currents stimulate the cells in your brain to release neurotransmitters.

Over time, TMS therapy encourages neuroplasticity: the ability of your brain to reorganize itself and how it functions. Your brain is a massive network of interlinked cells working together to function, and this ability is how it reorganizes itself to adapt to new circumstances. Your brain is more predisposed to neuroplasticity during childhood—that’s the reason why it’s much easier to learn new things as a child.

TMS works in the brain by encouraging a higher degree of neuroplasticity in the left prefrontal cortex. You can think of the role the pulsed magnetic fields play in TMS therapy as a “teacher” for your brain, training it to restructure itself and help restore its mood regulation capabilities.

What does TMS feel like?

The idea of applying strong pulses of concentrated magnetic fields to your brain might sound a little scary, but TMS, just like an MRI scan, is a painless procedure.

TMS therapy involves having a magnetic coil placed against your head. If you are undergoing TMS therapy, you might feel some minor to moderate tingling in your scalp or jaw due to the position of the coil and the magnetic pulses. You might also feel a mild headache during the procedure.

Patients usually report that these side effects are stronger in the first week of treatment, and taper off in intensity during the following weeks.

What is the difference between TMS and ECT?

While TMS and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are both effective non-invasive treatments for major depression, the two procedures could not be more different.

ECT works by subjecting a patient’s body to electrical shocks—hence the colloquial term, “shock therapy”—by sending a powerful electric current through their brain. This procedure induces a generalized seizure, which is used to manage refractory mental disorders such as major depression, catatonia, severe or prolonged mania, or treatment-resistant schizophrenia.

Because ECT induces seizures, patients must be sedated with general anesthesia and paralyzed with muscle relaxants, and it can take a long time to recover from a single session—with side effects afterward including short-term confusion and memory loss. Patients who undergo ECT may need a significant amount of caregiver support for some time afterward.

On the other hand, TMS therapy involves no sedation, and TMS patients can be awake and alert through the entire procedure. For the patient, it’s as easy as sitting in a chair for a half hour, and while there may be some minor discomfort, TMS is overall a completely pain-free treatment for depression. Unlike ECT, a patient will not need much, if any, caregiver support afterward.

Does TMS have side effects?

Unlike medication such as SSRIs or other forms of treatment such as ECT, TMS therapy has no systemic side effects. One session of TMS therapy takes about nineteen minutes, requires no medications, surgeries, or anesthesia, and has no undesirable effects on cognition such as memory loss or concentration problems.

In fact, after a session is over, you can walk right out and get right back to your normal daily schedule—your job, chores, errands, schoolwork, housework, and so on—without any further disruption. Any given TMS session isn’t much more disruptive to your daily schedule than, for example, a semi-annual dental checkup (and won’t involve any sharp implements).

The most disruptive aspect of TMS to your life isn’t any potential systemic side effect; rather, it’s that unlike those dental checkups you schedule twice a year, TMS therapy sessions are daily, so your daily routine might have to adjust itself around the session and associated commute.

Given that TMS therapy involves directing powerful magnetic fields into the brain, many people instantly assume that there must be some negative side effects, such as brain tumors or memory loss. However, while TMS therapy utilizes strong, concentrated magnetic fields similar to an MRI, the patient is exposed to far, far less of what they would be exposed to in a single MRI scan, and TMS has been proven to have no side effects associated with magnetic exposure.

For example, it would take a full course of NeuroStar TMS sessions for the total level of magnetic exposure for one of our patients to equal a fraction of what they would be exposed to in just one brain scan!

How long does TMS take to work?

Just like most kinds of therapy, TMS doesn’t start working at maximum effectiveness right away after one session. TMS therapy requires daily sessions. Many people start feeling improvement in their symptoms after only five sessions, but on average it takes roughly four to six weeks of daily sessions to see dramatic and lasting improvement.

Does TMS therapy cure depression?

Though research into conditions such as major depression, general anxiety disorder, OCD, and other mood disorders is constantly ongoing, there are as yet no cures for these conditions—only treatments.

TMS therapy, like medication and psychotherapy, is one option available to you to reduce the severity of your condition’s symptoms in the long term and learn to better manage them. While not a cure for depression, TMS therapy is a powerful treatment method and can help you take back control of your life when other options on their own or together have proven insufficient.

How long does TMS therapy last?

TMS therapy, while not permanent, is a long-lasting treatment for mood disorders such as major depression, GAD, and OCD. After four to six weeks of daily sessions, most patients find themselves with greatly diminished symptoms or no symptoms at all for six months to a year, with some patients finding themselves depression-free for over a year.

What is the success rate of TMS therapy?

TMS therapy for depression has an extremely high rate of success. Over 4.5 million NeuroStar Advanced treatments have been performed in over 127,000 patients since TMS therapy was granted FDA approval in 2008. Over the course of these treatments, 83% of these patients have reported a decrease in the severity of their depression, and 62% have reported a complete remission.

That is roughly 4 in 5 people experiencing improvement in their depression symptoms, and 3 in 5 experiencing a complete remission of their depression symptoms.

Is TMS therapy right for me?

TMS therapy for depression and other mood disorders is generally a method of last resort if medication and psychotherapy, alone or in tandem, have proven ineffective at mitigating and lessening the severity of your symptoms. If you have been diagnosed with major depression or an anxiety disorder, have exhausted all other possible treatments, and meet the physical criteria to receive TMS treatment, then TMS may be right for you.

After working with patients with major depression for over 20 years and conducting extensive research into NeuroStar TMS therapy, Drs. Charles Devine, M.D. and Tory Noonan, M.D. of TMS Central Florida decided that it was the logical progression in providing their patients with the best treatment solution for major depression and other mood disorders.

Today, TMS Central Florida is the only NeuroStar TMS therapy provider in Brandon, Florida. We offer a personalized approach to TMS treatment and care, providing a comfortable outpatient experience under the supervision of a licensed psychiatrist and a dedicated care team which provides 1-to-1 concierge-style clinical care.

We make sure to walk you through every step of the treatment, ensuring that all of your questions and concerns are addressed, and track your progress so you’re never left wondering whether or not the treatment is working.

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