TMS Ruined My Life (and Other Scary Headlines)

Headlines are designed to grab your attention and hook your interest, whether it’s a seasoned journalist, a medical whitepaper, or a blogger. If you’re a person curious about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatment, do you think you’re more likely to read the 99 articles titled “Benefits of TMS Therapy” or the one article titled, “TMS Ruined My Life.”

The truth is, we’re all more likely to click on the second headline. And, unfortunately, if it’s your first time hearing about TMS, it might even be a deciding factor in your trust in the treatment and the technology.

The truth is, there is no debate about TMS. Over 15,000 clinical studies have shown that TMS treatments are twice as effective as oral antidepressants in treating depression and anxiety disorders, with fewer side effects. There are always questions involved when considering an alternative medical treatment, and it’s good to be cautious. However, it’s important to consider reliable sources of information.

Related: Antidepressants Not Working? Here’s What to Do Next

What Is TMS?

TMS uses gentle magnetic pulses to treat depression, OCD, and more at the source. TMS is non-invasive, non-systemic, and drug-free. Plus, TMS is FDA-approved and covered by most insurance.

Like physical therapy for the brain, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) therapy is typically administered five days per week for six weeks. TMS uses an MRI-strength magnet to treat the brain directly. Unlike medications that pass through the entire system and can cause systemic side effects, TMS is well tolerated.

Sometimes patients experience mild scalp discomfort or mild headache during active treatment. Most patients notice symptom improvement with TMS after 2 weeks of treatment (8-10 sessions). Patients report that the TMS pulses take some getting used to, but are not painful.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is:

  • FDA-approved and FDA-cleared
  • Non-invasive
  • Requires no downtime
  • Done in an outpatient setting
  • Patients can drive themselves to and from treatment and return to their days right away
  • Appointments are short (less than 20 minutes)

TMS has been shown effective at treating mood disorders like major depression, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What TMS Is Not

TMS is often confused with ECT. ECT, short for electroconvulsive therapy and otherwise known as shock therapy, is a treatment modality that has been used for around 80 years. ECT is designed to induce a seizure with electric currents while a patient is under anesthesia. ECT can have significant side effects and is usually only used to treat depression or bipolar depression after all other options have been exhausted.

Movies like 1975s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest give a very dramatic portrayal of ECT and generally make mental health treatment out to be frightening and mind-altering. In reality, ECT is not TMS.

Unlike ECT, TMS is non-invasive (does not require surgery) and non-systemic (does not affect the entire body). TMS is covered by most insurance and has fewer side effects than other treatments, or in some cases, no side effects at all. 

TMS therapy is an FDA-cleared treatment that can be used alone or in conjunction with medication. TMS uses gentle magnetic pulses to treat specific areas of the brain known to be under-active in conditions affecting mental health and cognition. Unlike medications, which affect the entire body, TMS therapy treats mental health at the source.

Can TMS Treatment cause permanent damage?

Those who claim “TMS ruined my life” complain of memory loss, cognitive impairment, and dizziness. You’ll read several stories of people who claim prolonged exposure to the electromagnetic coil ruined their lives, cost them their jobs, or dissolved their marriages.

Stories like that make great headlines, but they misconstrue a much larger collective of TMS research and experience. They also don’t take into consideration any other case-specific underlying conditions or other health factors that could have caused those issues.

TMS does not cause cognitive impairment. In fact, many studies have documented that TMS can improve key domains of cognitive function. Individuals who have undergone TMS treatment demonstrated increased episodic memory, working memory, and motor learning performance. TMS is considered an effective treatment option for mild cognitive impairment and dementia.

Some TMS patients experience a phenomenon called the “TMS dip”. also known as a “dip in response”. This is when, during the course of treatment, particularly in the initial sessions, there can be a temporary worsening of symptoms before experiencing improvement. This dip is thought to arise due to the brain’s adjustment to the stimulation and is often followed by a more noticeable positive response as treatment progresses. The TMS dip may explain some of the reports of patients having a poor experience with TMS.

While there is no drug or piece of technology on the market that comes with no risks, even the FDA ranks TMS as a low-risk option. It’s also important to remember that it is just that – an option. Another tool in the toolbelt of depression treatments used to help people who struggle with treatment resistant depression or difficult-to-treat depression symptoms.

Can TMS Therapy change your personality?

Will TMS change your personality? TMS treatment will not change your principles or core values. You will be the fundamentally same person as you were before treatment. However, you will likely find that TMS therapy sessions help improve many mood and anxiety disorder symptoms including fatigue, low mood, and difficulty concentrating.

When a TMS therapy patient cites changes in personality, these changes are likely connected to other issues that patients experience as a result of depression, severe depression, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder.

  • Improved Mood: Since TMS is proven to help improve major depression, anxiety symptoms, and bipolar disorder, you’ll be more consistent with your moods and open to doing more things.
  • Depression Symptoms Reduced: If you’re not feeling blue, you’re more likely to interact with others, go to social activities, and approach life with a more positive attitude.
  • Feeling Energized and Well-Rested: One of the first improvements that many TMS patients notice is changes to their sleep. You will likely feel less fatigue and find you are falling asleep and staying asleep better.
  • Consistency In Things You Love: Those with mental health disorders could find traveling overwhelming or be too afraid of crowds or mood swings to enjoy their favorite team’s football game. Most patients find they can “get back to living” with TMS treatment sessions.

What are the long-term side effects of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

TMS treatment comes with certain risk factors and side effects that are clearly disclosed. This information we provide is based on clinical trials from legitimate sources such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FACT: As a patient, you have the opportunity to report the adverse effects of TMS you might experience to the FDA through the Adverse Event Report system, which will be made public.

Known side effects of TMS that are more common include:

  • Mild Headaches
  • Temporary Scalp Discomfort During Treatment

Potentially more severe but much rarer side effects are:

  • Seizures

How to Lower Your Risks of Adverse Effects of TMS

You cannot get TMS treatment without a medical review and a full explanation of the process, side effects, and benefits. Typically, a pre-consultation checklist will include questions to help you and your provider discuss TMS and other depression treatments:

  • Full list of symptoms
  • Length of time since symptoms started
  • General medical history, including surgeries, medications, and family health history
  • Review of any implants in your body
  • Headache frequency
  • Seizure history
  • Brain damage history
  • Any other medical conditions you’ve been diagnosed with or suspected

CHECKLIST TIP: If you don’t know the answer to a question, then answer “I don’t know” instead of “No.”

Considering bringing your own list of questions as well:

  • Why do patients choose TMS therapy?
  • What are the safety risks?

TIP: You can also research studies through the NIH and FDA, which will clearly display the research sponsors, doctors, subjects, and outcomes.

  • What if I am uncomfortable during the TMS treatments? Can I ask you to stop?
  • I read something that concerned me on the internet. Can you directly address that?
  • Is there anything in my health history we discussed that could make my side effects more intense?
  • If I feel a temporary worsening of my symptoms, am I at any greater risk if I choose to stop?
  • I’m really worried about_______. Is this right for me?

Learn More About TMS Therapy

It’s hard enough battling depression symptoms, much less dealing with treatment-resistant depression. If you’ve tried talk therapy, antidepressant medications, or other treatments, and still haven’t found remission of depression symptoms, consider TMS therapy. Don’t settle with lingering symptoms or unwanted side effects. You have options.

The experienced care team at Neuro Wellness Spa is compassionate and skilled at treating even the toughest cases of depression. Get started today.

Interested in learning more about other mental health treatments? We also offer psychiatry services and talk therapy covered by insurance.

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