For many people, the most challenging aspect of treating depression is finding a medication, treatment, or combination of medications and treatments that are effective. It can be incredibly discouraging, and oftentimes people consider giving up on treatment all together.
For patients struggling with depression who have not had success with depression medication or are unable to take medication due to the side effects, there is an alternative, advanced treatment approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration: TMS therapy (transcranial magnetic stimulation).
Although researchers and medical professionals have studied the technology for nearly four decades, TMS therapy has seen an increase in popularity over the past decade.
How TMS Therapy Works
TMS therapy uses magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that regulates mood and is typically underactive for people with depression. Repetitive magnetic pulses near the prefrontal cortex activate neurons that help the brain to process the key chemicals serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals create feelings of joy, contentment, achievement, and motivation.
For example, with the proper levels of serotonin in the brain, a college student may be more successful in school thanks to better sleep, improved memory, and greater self-esteem. For a business owner, adequate dopamine levels can help him or her better manage stressors and find pleasure in solving problems and meeting goals.
All medications come with risks and side effects. TMS therapy offers an alternative treatment option, allowing patients to avoid the side effects that are often associated with many depression medications, particularly higher dose medications or the more intense classes, like atypical antipsychotics. After a few weeks of treatment, TMS therapy has been shown to have lasting effects that can lead to long-term remission from depression symptoms, without the systemic side effects caused by medication.
What is a Typical TMS Treatment Session Like?
TMS patients come in for treatment five times a week for six weeks - followed by a three-week taper. An appointment typically lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, with flexible, extended appointment times to accommodate your busy life. Patients can relax in a reclining chair, like those you’d find in a spa or dental office, while reading, listening to music, or closing their eyes for a quick rest. A magnetic coil is placed on the patient’s head. This coil generates concentrated magnetic pulses that reach specifically targeted areas in the brain. The pulsing is caused by magnetic fields - rapidly switching on and off.
TMS therapy does not require anesthesia or sedation, so patients are fully awake during the treatment and can immediately return to their regular activities. TMS devices do not use radiation or electrical stimulation, and the strength of the magnetic field is about the same as the typical MRI scan.
Some people might experience temporary side effects, such as headache, scalp discomfort or lightheadedness. Side effects generally decrease with the first few treatment sessions. If needed, over-the-counter pain medication taken before treatment can help to ease headache discomfort.
Who Can Benefit from TMS?
TMS therapy is recommended for people experiencing chronic depression who have tried at least one depression medication without relief from symptoms. If this sounds like you, you are not alone. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 5.5 million adults in the United States undergoing treatment for depression have not achieved remission with depression medication. NAMI also reports that among a group of patients whose progress was followed for 12 months after acute treatment, 68% experienced “clinically meaningful long-lasting improvement.”
Is TMS Therapy Right for You?
If depression medications have not worked in the past, TMS therapy might be a better choice for you. We offer TMS therapy in our Annapolis, Arlington, Baltimore, Bethesda, Columbia, Gaithersburg, and Towson offices. Give us a call, or fill out the form linked below – with our digital system, you only have to do this once!