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What Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a non invasive procedure used to stimulate activity in certain targeted areas of the brain. It is used to treat severe depression that has not responded to traditional therapies, such as anti depressant medication, psychotherapy or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or as an alternative to ECT for people reluctant to undergo electroconvulsive therapy.

A strong electro magnet is affixed to the scalp and this sends magnet pulses into targeted areas of the brain. The pulses are about as strong as the magnetic pulses used in an MRI machine. These electro magnetic pulses change brain activation patterns and the effects of this increased activation linger long after the end of the procedure. Activating certain areas of the brain can reduce depressive symptoms.

What Does It Feel Like?

TMS is done on an outpatient basis and patients are not put under anesthesia during the procedure. A small percentage of people experience some pain during TMS, but the vast majority feels only a slight knocking sensation inside the head. Some people feel a slight headache while receiving the electromagnetic stimulation, but this disappears shortly after the end of a session. Some people experience an uncomfortable tightening of the scalp and jaw.

The entire procedure takes only about half an hour, and in most cases, patients will receive 5 sessions of stimulation per week, for between 2 and 6 weeks.

Are There Any Side Effects or Risks?

Although a very rare side effect, the biggest risk associated with TMS is seizure during the stimulation. Other rare but serious side effects include induced mania or damaged hearing. More common side effects include mild headache, sore jaw or scalp and a temporary feeling of lightheadedness.

Scientists do not yet know if TMS may cause any long term side effects.

Where Can You Get TMS?

TMS is not yet FDA approved but is in wide experimental and clinical trial usage. The technique has been widely studied since 1995 and recent improvements in the technique have led to substantial improvements in efficacy. Most studies show that TMS can reduce the symptoms of depression and certain other mental illnesses. TMS is approved for use on treatment resistant patients in Canada and in some other countries.

Hope for the Future

Researchers are hopeful that TMS will soon receive FDA approval for mainstream use in the treatment of depression that does not respond to conventional forms of treatment. The advantages of TMS include its easy administration (in a doctor's office), its non invasive nature, its limited side effects and its efficacy for people that don't get help through other means of treatment.

If you receive insufficient depressive symptoms relief from conventional treatments talk to your doctor about your appropriateness for TMS clinical trials in your area.

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Page last updated Aug 05, 2010

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