TMS Side Effects

What is TMS and What are the Side Effects?

TMS stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation. It’s considered a deep brain stimulation technique for treating mental health disorder symptoms. In 2008, the FDA approved TMS treatment for depression specifically, but trained technicians can use TMS to alleviate other mental health disorder symptoms like anxiety. TMS has also gained FDA approval for OCD, helping patients gain control over their symptoms. Are you considering TMS treatment? If so, it’s important to know how it works and if there are any side effects.

What is TMS?

TMS treatment aimed at alleviating depression uses a series of strong magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain. TMS is sometimes called repetitive TMS or abbreviated to rTMS. 

How does TMS work?

Noone fully understands the biological mechanisms behind mental health disorders like depression, but research has uncovered that the brain is the seat of mental health. Changes in brain structure and brain chemistry can trigger or worsen mental health disorder symptoms, behavioral changes, and emotional distress. Antidepressant medications are used to target the brain’s neurochemicals thought to be responsible for depression symptoms. 

TMS works in a similar fashion. Instead of taking a medication to get relief from symptoms, magnetic energy is used to directly stimulate the brain into producing neurochemicals, which relieve depression.

What happens during a TMS session?

During TMS treatment, patients are seated and fully awake. An electromagnetic coil is placed over the patient’s scalp and used to target specific areas in the brain underneath. The electromagnet delivers a series of pain-free pulses through the skull and into the brain tissue. The pulses activate and stimulate nerve cells in the brain involved in controlling moods. In depressed patients, it is believed that these regions are underactive. TMS helps activate those nerve cells and neurochemicals, alleviating depression symptoms, and lifting the patient’s mood.

Why would someone get TMS for depression?

Most people with moderate to severe depression respond favorably to traditional techniques – therapy and medication. But in some cases, medications and therapy alone do not work. Also, some depressed patients may not be able to take drugs because of an underlying condition. Fortunately, TMS is effective in treating depression. It’s also less invasive than other forms of deep brain stimulation for mental health. TMS doesn’t require sedation. In some instances, improvements in mood can happen faster with TMS than with medications alone.

What to Expect During a TMS Session

TMS treatment is typically carried out in a specialized clinic or doctor’s office. In order to be effective, patients must undergo a series of treatment sessions. While some patients may find relief after just a handful of sessions, they will need to attend treatment for several weeks. Usually, patients will have one session a day, five days a week, for up to six weeks. 

The first TMS session is usually the longest, with subsequent sessions lasting about 40 minutes on average. During the first session, a doctor will need to find and note where to place the coil. It will be different for every patient, depending on their symptoms and medical needs. Doctors will also need to determine how powerful the magnetic pulses will need to be for each patient. The first session can last for an hour.

During each treatment session, patients can sit in a comfortable chair, fully awake. They can read, listen to music, or talk to the technician. The magnetic coil will be placed over certain areas of the patient’s head during treatment. While the coil delivers magnetic pulses, the patient will hear a series of clicking noises and feel a slight tapping on their head during treatment. After treatment, patients can return to work or school. It’s also safe for patients to drive after a TMS session.

What are the risks and side effects of TMS?

TMS has fewer side effects than other forms of deep brain stimulation. But that doesn’t mean it is side-effect free. TMS doesn’t require sedation or a surgical procedure, which increases the risk of severe side effects and infection. It also won’t cause memory loss, which can happen with ECT. For most patients, TMS is considered safe. But the most common side effects reported with the treatment are:

  • Headache
  • Aching and tingling of the scalp
  • Facial muscle twitching
  • Lightheadedness

Most TMS patients report mild to moderate side effects that don’t last long. For the majority, side effects will decrease over time as the patient undergoes additional TMS sessions. If side effects are severe and unpleasant, a doctor can reduce the strength of the magnetic energy to lessen their severity. In some cases, patients are advised to take OTC pain relief before a treatment session.

Are there severe side effects of TMS treatment?

Before a patient can undergo TMS treatment, doctors will do a thorough exam and evaluation of the patient’s medical history and condition. This is to rule out the possibility of severe side effects and to determine if the patient is a candidate for TMS and will tolerate the treatment. Serious but rare side effects include:

  • Seizures
  • Mania in people with a history of bipolar disorder
  • Hearing loss if the patient doesn’t wear adequate hearing protection

Magnetic pulses from the TMS coil can be loud. During treatment, patients are advised to wear proper ear protection.

Are there long-term side effects of TMS treatment?

TMS for depression symptoms is a relatively new procedure. In most cases, the treatment is well-tolerated, and patients can find relief from their symptoms. Research into the possibility of long-term side effects is ongoing at this time. 

How do you know if you’re a candidate for TMS?

People who haven’t been able to find relief from antidepressant medications may be a candidate for TMS treatment. But it requires a thorough exam from a doctor to determine the possibility. If you need fast relief from depression symptoms, contact Pulse TMS today. Representatives are standing by to answer your questions.