Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, was initially diagnosed in veterans coming home from World War I and World War II. As a result of this, when many Americans hear the term PTSD, they may mostly associate it with military veterans. Contrary to this belief, PTSD can essentially affect anyone who underwent an event that felt too big to process. Affecting millions of Americans day in and day out, PTSD does not discriminate. Although war veterans make up a large percentage of those affected, there are countless other debilitating cases that need attention. This has led to many practitioners asking, can TMS work for PTSD?


A Rundown Of PTSD

Some possible events that trigger PTSD include a threat to one’s life, a sexual violation, a severe injury, natural disasters, childhood abuse, emotional abuse, or the death of a loved one. The symptoms may show up right away or years later. People suffering from PTSD feel a heightened sense of anxiety and fear, which activates the sympathetic nervous system (aka the fight or flight response). They may feel this fear despite being in safe situations.

There are four main types of symptoms associated with PTSD. These include intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviors, negative thoughts, and heightened arousal. Intrusive thoughts may manifest as flashbacks or memories of the event that feel like a “reliving” of it. Avoidance behaviors include steering clear of situations that feel similar to the event. This can cause severe impairment in day-to-day functioning. Negative thoughts will cause emotions like anger, guilt, and shame. This can manifest as distrust in others. Heightened arousal can cause irritability and outbursts, as well as destructive behaviors. Other general symptoms may include anxiety, depression, dissociation, eating disorders, nightmares, panic attacks, and substance abuse.

Typical Treatments

When it comes to treatment for patients with PTSD, there are a few options that may provide relief and remission. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help change the negative thought patterns that come along with this disorder. Once these thought patterns are alleviated and positive thoughts are replaced, exposure therapy can then be the next step. Re-introducing elements that are typically triggering can help with desensitization. These therapies can also be paired with certain medications. Medications can help by relieving the symptoms enough that trauma can finally be processed. Unfortunately, PTSD may be too severe for some that these options simply just don’t work. This is where TMS may be able to come into play.

Additional Reading: What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?

TMS As An Option

Although TMS for PTSD is not FDA approved yet, TMS for major depressive disorder (or MDD) has been. However, with depression being a symptom of PTSD, mental health practitioners are examining whether TMS for PTSD can be an effective solution. When treating depression with TMS, the magnetic pulse focuses on areas of the brain with low activity. These magnetic fields reset and normalize the brain chemistry by producing changes in neuron activity. Similarly, when treating PTSD, the practitioner will focus on parts of the brain in need of stimulation.

In PTSD, the key parts of the brain affected are the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Typically, the vmPFC activity is low, the amygdala is overactive, and the hippocampus may have shrunk. With this in mind, the focus is on the dorsolateral or ventromedial prefrontal cortex, depending on the symptoms. Stress will greatly affect this area of the brain and cause ineffective working memory.

A treatment center located in San Diego, California has seen promising results with this. The success rate is high. It’s non-invasive and non-sedative. The sessions are quick and the side effects are minimal. These factors tend to be quite appealing, especially to those with little to no success with talk therapy or medication. Treatment typically looks like five times a week for a six-week course. Sessions can last 18 minutes to up to 40 minutes, depending on the individual. With the swiftness and the lack of downtime, it can fit in quite easily with just about anyone’s lifestyle and work schedule. After those six weeks are up, follow-up sessions can be done depending on if symptoms are still present or persistent.

Promising Results

So while TMS is mostly associated and approved for depression, mental health professionals are willing and ready to experiment and step outside the box in the name of recovery. If this procedure is providing adequate results for the severity of MDD, there’s a great chance of it easing or eliminating the depressive symptoms of PTSD. With more case studies and more research, this may be the beginning of a promising treatment for this debilitating disorder.

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. 

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