Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Safe?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

When individuals first hear of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), one of the first questions asked is “Is TMS safe?”. Although initial studies began in 1985, TMS treatment for depressive disorders did not receive FDA approval until 2008. However, since then, over 65 clinical studies have proven TMS to be effective and safe for major depressive disorder.

Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Safe?

TMS is different from both antidepressant medications and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). TMS differs in that it utilizes magnetic fields/pulses to target the mood-controlling areas of the brain. Studies have shown that it is possible to treat depression by activating those nerve cells. The magnetic pulses that TMS delivers are like that of an MRI machine. A full course of TMS treatment generally involves 30-36 sessions completed once daily 5 days a week. Most appointments last no longer than 30 minutes. Treatment staff advises patients to wear hearing protection during treatment due to the knocking or tapping noise made from the magnetic pulsations. However, hearing protection is not a requirement.

Side effects of TMS

The most common side effect is slight discomfort at the treatment site on the scalp. This discomfort often subsides within the first week as treatment progresses. Discomfort is manageable with PRN pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Individuals are awake and alert throughout treatment and are able to drive themselves both to and from appointments with no concerns.

Other side effects may include eye pain, toothache, and muscle twitch, which were reported in less than or equal to 5% of people in clinical trials. Additionally, there has been a rare risk of a seizure occurring in less than 0.1% of people. As with any treatment, there is a risk for side effects. However, in comparison to many alternative depression treatments, some consider these side effects as minimal. Especially when weighing the 69 percent response rate.

What makes TMS safe?

TMS is a very precise treatment. TMS treatment delivers magnetic pulses to the same area of the scalp each session. This is done by adjusting the equipment to each patient’s height and comfort. Our psychiatrist, Dr. James Sorrell, will determine the area on the scalp to target at the initial appointment by locating a specific area within the brain that is associated with a thumb or finger twitch.

TMS vs. Alternative Depression Treatment Options

The same precision of TMS is not attainable with antidepressants or ECT. For example, antidepressants enter our bloodstream and are delivered throughout the entire body. Therefore, antidepressants can have side effects which impact various systems in our bodies. Antidepressants often result in less than desirable side effects such as diarrhea, upset stomach, headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, low libido, erectile dysfunction, among other long-term side effects.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) uses electric shocks to parts of the brain with patients under anesthesia. ECT can have serious side effects such as memory loss and potential cognitive impacts. TMS is a safe alternative to antidepressants and ECT due to its precision and lack of systemic side effects. Clinical trials showcase TMS as having a higher response rate and remission rate from depressive symptoms versus many types of antidepressants.

Throughout the course of TMS treatment, patients should continue taking their antidepressant medication. However, upon the conclusion of treatment, patients should discuss possible medication changes with their medical provider. NeuroStar TMS Therapy has been clinically proven to be both a safe and effective treatment for individuals suffering from depressive symptoms and bipolar disorder.

TMS Efficacy Rates

Patient testimonial from Kathleen N.- 55 yr old, Registered Dental Hygienist

What hobbies and interests are you now able to enjoy more because of your treatment?

“I have done some pleasure reading, that has nothing to do with my work. I did some volunteer work which I haven’t done in over a year. Now, I am singing with the radio again. When traveling (before) I would just sleep in the car.”

What advice would you give to other people in a similar situation to you?

“Get help. Don’t wait until you feel so bad you hate your life. See a mental health provider and find the options that will work for you. I found this treatment on my own and was willing to try the 36 sessions.”

TMS Institute of Great Plains Mental Health

Paula Whittle, PMHNP, and Dr. James Sorrell believe that mental health should be considered as a primary driver for one’s overall wellbeing, both physically and mentally. At TMS Institute of GPMH, we want to make sure your connection to the world you live in is addressed – to change the order to … SPIRIT, MIND, and BODY. As a result, we believe when people are treated in this order they feel better, more at peace, and much stronger to face life’s challenges. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS therapy), the most advanced form of depression treatment, offers us the ability to enhance our patient outcomes following our philosophy of a holistic approach to treating mental health conditions.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation. 


Efficacy of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in treatment-resistant depression

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