TMS & Other Therapies

TMS FAQs

June 19, 2019

TMS—transcranial magnetic stimulation—is an alternative treatment method for individuals with depression who have not positively responded to at least one antidepressant.

Because TMS is relatively new to mainstream phychiatry, many people are still unaware of its availability, benefits—or even its existence.

If you have treatment-resistant depression, TMS could be the path to remission that you’ve been searching for.

Continue reading to find out more about the treatment, including:

  • What TMS entails
  • When TMS starts working
  • Why TMS could be right for you

Frequently Asked Questions about TMS

What is TMS?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the part of the brain where depression is most localized.

Technician administers TMS to patient
TMS is administered by a trained technician. Image courtesy of In Public Safety.

During a TMS treatment session, the patient is seated while a technician uses the TMS machine to apply the therapy.

Antidepressants and psychotherapy are the main ways medical professionals treat depression. TMS is used when these methods prove ineffective.

How does TMS work?

During a TMS treatment session, an electromagnetic coil is placed against the patient’s head, allowing the magnetic waves to penetrate the skull into the brain.

The cause of depression is not entirely known. However, TMS targets the part of the brain thought to be responsible.

Medical professionals theorize the magnetic stimulation re-activates brain areas rendered dormant by depression, which is why TMS improves mood and combats symptoms of depression.

Does TMS hurt?

TMS is non-invasive, which means the patient is fully conscious during the treatment. Some patients report feeling a tingling sensation in their scalp during as the stimulation occurs or a slight headache after the treatment is over.

The magnetic waves emitted during a TMS treatment are similar to those produced by an MRI machine.

Overall, TMS is relatively painless, and any physical sensation felt during or following a session is mild and brief.

Though TMS might initially resemble electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), they are very different. Unlike TMS, ECT requires sedation and can result in memory loss or a short period of confusion following the treatment.

How do I know if TMS is right for me?

If you suffer from treatment-resistant depression—that is, you’ve tried psychotherapy and at least one antidepressant but are still experiencing symptoms of depression—TMS could be right for you.

Additionally, if taking antidepressants has negatively impacted you, TMS could be a more positive alternative.

According to Neurostar, the number one choice for TMS prescribers, TMS could be right for you if you identify with two or more of the follow statements:

  • Depression symptoms have interfered with my daily life.
  • I am not satisfied with the results I get from depression medication.
  • I have had or worry about side effects from depression medications.
  • I have switched medications for depression due to side effects.
  • I am interested in a proven, non-drug therapy for depression.

Click here to download Neurostar’s TMS patient brochure.

What are the side effects of TMS?

TMS is both safe and tolerable.

Unlike the prescribed medications used to treat depression, TMS has virtually no side effects. As previously stated, patients may experience a headache or sore scalp after receiving TMS therapy; however, if this occurs, any pain or discomfort will not last long, and this reaction usually ceases to occur after the first week of treatment.

There is a very slight risk of seizure associated with TMS, but the possibility is incredibly low (around .01 percent).

Pills on top of a paper that reads "side effects"
Common side effects of antidepressants include nausea, diarrhea or constipation, weight fluctuation, insomnia, and low sex drive. Image courtesy of Harvard Health.

Is TMS safe?

TMS is FDA-approved, and patients who undergo TMS therapy can resume daily activity immediately following a session.

There is no link between TMS and cognitive impairment. Memory, awareness, and consciousness should not be affected by TMS.

TMS is not safe for patients who have non-removable conductive metal or stimulator implants in or near the head, including deep brain stimulators, cochlear implants, and vagus nerve stimulators.

Patients who have a history of seizures or who have sustained traumatic brain injury are not optimal candidates for TMS.

When does TMS start working?

Treatment for TMS is outpatient and daily. Usually, this means a session once a day, five days a week, for four to six weeks. Of course, each treatment is subjective to the patient. How long a session last varies from patient to patient, but most sessions are 20 to 40 minutes long.

Compared to most antidepressants, which usually take about six weeks to show results, TMS works relatively quickly. Patients report changes in mood starting as early as the first week of treatment.

Furthermore, unlike antidepressants, TMS is not something you’ll need every day for the remainder of your recovery.

Once one round of treatment (daily for four to six weeks) is complete, you might not have to undergo TMS for five years or more.

Some patients will require “tune-ups,” but even in those cases, TMS therapy is still effective for at least a year.

Will my insurance cover TMS?

TMS is covered by most insurances. However, each insurance has different prerequisites for coverage.

Typically, you have to have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and have had tried at least one antidepressant.

Patient sits across from doctor
Talk to your doctor today about TMS, and start a new approach to your journey toward recovery.

Where do I go to receive TMS therapy?

The answer to this question depends on your location. TMS treatment options are available across the country, but in order to find the most convenient facility, you might have to do some research.

Using your zip code, you can search TMS locations near you with a tracker like this one, from Neurostar.

For patients in the Pittsburgh, PA; Morgantown or Bridgeport, WV; Birmingham, AL; Kingsland, GA; St. Petersburg, Punta Gorda, Apollo Beach, or Jacksonville, FL, areas, click here to find a Transformations location near you.

Do I have to stop taking my medication to try TMS?

You should be able to continue taking any medication you already take throughout your treatment with TMS.

In fact, TMS is usually done while the patient continues to follow a pre-established medication regimen.

Additionally, if your psychiatrist is not experienced with TMS or not affiliated with a TMS facility, you don’t have to change psychiatrists in order to start TMS.

Stop suffering, and start recovering with TMS.

Having treatment-resistant depression might mean you’ve given up on recovery. In many cases, depression is, unfortunately, a lifelong condition. However, TMS offers a chance at remission for an abundance of people.

TMS isn’t a miracle cure—but it is innovative science, clinically-proven to show results.




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