Introduction to TMS
For many people, the term TMS therapy is totally foreign. What does it do? What is it for? What does it have to do with magnets?
This therapy has been in use since its approval by the FDA in 2008 as a treatment for various conditions in the brain, like anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression.
What is TMS Therapy?
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS for short, is a noninvasive therapy technique that applies powerful magnetic energies directed at specific parts of the brain understood to be most involved in depression.
Typically, this therapy is reserved for those people who have tried other forms of traditional treatment for various conditions. In most cases, people who utilize this form of therapy do see noted improvements even when other methods have not yielded results.
Does Insurance Cover TMS?
Once you talk with your doctor and have determined that TMS is a reasonable avenue of treatment for you based on medical history, then you can move forward with the process. You will be required to disclose your mental health history and whether or not you have any metal or implanted devices in the body.
Most insurance providers cover TMS therapy, but the medical requirements vary from insurance company to insurance company. Leading up to this point, it’s also a good idea to have documentation indicating that other treatment options have been tried—such as medication and talk therapy.
What Types of Devices Are Used For TMS?
TMS therapy utilizes one of several devices to focus magnetic fields to different parts of the brain. There are:
- Surface TMS
- Deep TMS
- Rapid theta burst therapy (TBS)
As the name implies, this device uses a magnetic coil that only penetrates a short way into the skull to affect particular brain regions.
Using more powerful magnets, this device can affect portions of the brain that further below the surface of the skull.
Due to the rapid and more powerful exposure methods, this device makes it possible to complete a treatment session in under ten minutes rather than 20 minutes or more from less powerful devices
Does TMS Therapy Work?
The logical question when looking into different forms of therapy is “Does it work?” Luckily there has been plenty of research regarding the efficacy of TMS therapy. Harvard Medical School has published an article explaining that between “50% to 60% of people with depression who have tried and failed to receive benefit from medications experience a clinically meaningful response with TMS.”
Another article stated that “58% of people receiving treatment reported improvement and 37% reported full remission.” These results are telling, and while the effects of TMS therapy require upkeep, this is no different from most other forms of mood disorder treatments. “Maintenance sessions” are proven effective in continuing to see positive results.
Most people see positive results lasting about a year after treatment.
Just like other kinds of therapy, it doesn’t cure depression on its own. Along with recommendations from a doctor, other methods can be combined with TMS therapy to maximize the positive results. Changes in diet, interpersonal relationships, and engaging in traditional talk therapy can further improve the effectiveness of therapy and results overall.
What Happens During Treatment?
After talking with your practicing professional and determining that TMS would be an effective treatment, a schedule is set up which typically consists of 5 sessions a week for a number of weeks, usually for a month or two.
During these sessions, which can last around 20 to 40 minutes depending on the particular device used, the magnetic coils are positioned against the skull. The positioning will depend on the part of the brain receiving treatment. For depression, this would be the forehead corresponding with the prefrontal cortex. Once the patient is comfortable and the device is in place, the session can begin.
When activated, patients can feel a slight tingling in and around the part of the head being affected. Sometimes, the part of the scalp against the device may feel uncomfortable, and this discomfort can extend to after sessions have finished.
What Happens Next?
There is no anesthesia, so your day is uninterrupted. There’s no invasive surgery or documented long-term negative effects associated with TMS therapy. Some minor and temporary effects include minor headaches and some mild irritation of the scalp. Over time, these effects can lessen with further treatment.
An Emerging Field
TMS is a relatively young form of therapy—just over a decade old. There are regularly new discoveries in how this therapy can be used to better the lives of people. So far there have been no documented long term negative side effects in connection to TMS therapies.
Just like any emerging technique, improvements are always being developed and new knowledge is consistently applied. Talk with your doctor or local practitioner if you think TMS therapy might be right for you.