TMS Side Effects

For many years, the initial response to mental health treatment has been psychiatric medications and therapy. Although these conventional treatments can be effective, they don’t work for everyone and medications can take weeks or months to exert their full effects. If you’re experiencing symptoms or unwanted side effects, or if you want to supplement your current treatments, you might consider Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) therapy is a non-invasive, non-drug, and FDA-cleared treatment with zero downtime that is safe and effective for a range of conditions affecting mental health and cognition.

What is TMS Therapy?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) are safe and effective treatments for certain mental health disorders that use pulses from a magnetic coil to stimulate specific areas of the brain that are responsible for regulating mood and emotion. It is an extremely effective and well-tolerated treatment for major depression, anxiety, OCD, and many other mental health conditions. TMS therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with other mental health treatments like therapy or medication.

TMS began as a treatment option for treatment-resistant depression. Since its FDA clearance in 2008 for depression and in 2018 for OCD and cigarette cessation, TMS is also a promising treatment for a range of other conditions affecting mental health and cognition. Notably, TMS therapy is used “off-label” as a safe and effective treatment for improving anxiety symptoms, cognitive decline, and migraines. New off-label uses are being researched every day for conditions including ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Alzheimer’s, and more.

What are the Risks of TMS?

TMS is an incredibly low-risk treatment option. TMS is both non-invasive and non-systemic. This means that TMS therapy does not require a surgical operation and it does not affect the entire body. TMS therapy has fewer side effects than other treatments like medication, and in some cases, there are no side effects at all.

Unlike other forms of brain stimulation like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), TMS therapy does not require sedation. Patients can drive themselves to and from treatments and get back to their day right away, including work or school.

TMS is an outpatient procedure. Patients recline in a private treatment room and may relax, read, work, or watch television during treatment. A TMS magnet is positioned over the patient’s head to deliver gentle magnetic pulses to stimulate specific areas of the brain. Treatment sessions last about 30 minutes, after which patients can get back to their days right away, including work or school.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation magnetic coil placed on a patients head that emits magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells to improve mental health symptoms

What are Long Term Side Effects of TMS?

TMS is both non-invasive and non-systemic. It has fewer side effects than other depression treatments like SSRIs or other medications. In many cases, TMS therapy results in no side effects at all.

TMS therapy is non-invasive which means TMS does not require a surgical operation. Other brain stimulation therapies rely on deep brain stimulation or vagus nerve stimulation. Unlike those treatments, TMS does not require electrode implantation or surgery. It will not cause seizures or require the use of anesthesia sedation like for electroconvulsive therapy. In fact, TMS does not affect cognitive function. Patients can go about daily activities following their treatment.

TMS therapy is also non-systemic, which means TMS is a treatment targeted specifically at the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex area of the brain, and will not affect other parts of the body. Medications like SSRIs are diffuse, affect the entire body, and thus cause many side effects. These medications work chemically by altering the amount of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine (the three neurotransmitters most responsible for anxiety and depression) available in the brain.

In contrast, TMS is a neuro-modulatory technique. This means that TMS therapy changes the way the neurons fire and function rather than simply allowing the brain cells to be bathed in more chemicals. TMS is a localized treatment that targets the precise neural circuitry known to be responsible for depression and anxiety. TMS is more than twice as effective as medications.

Side Effects of TMS Therapy:

TMS is extremely well tolerated. The side effects of TMS therapy are fleeting and limited. They include scalp discomfort and mild headaches.

Temporary Scalp Discomfort

Patients report that the magnetic pulses administered during active TMS treatment feel like taps on the scalp. Sometimes patients experience temporary and mild scalp discomfort during active treatment. Most patients, however, describe the taps as mildly annoying. Some patients even say they enjoy the tapping sensation.

Mild Headache

Some patients may experience mild headaches during active TMS treatment. These are mild and usually will diminish over the course of the treatment. Over-the-counter pain medication can be used to treat these headaches.

A study by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago showed a full course of TMS sessions resulted in a 0.10% chance of a seizure. This is the only serious side effect reported, and it is incredibly rare. Ask your TMS therapy provider if you are concerned about seizures or any other side effects.

If you are receiving TMS therapy and require a break, feel pain, or believe the coil may have accidentally moved, your TMS technician can pause your treatment to make sure you are comfortable.

Who Should Not Get TMS?

TMS may be contraindicated in patients with non-removable metallic implants or ferromagnetic medical devices above the neckline. Dental fillings and piercings are typically safe for TMS therapy. Generally, if patients can safely receive an MRI, then they can receive TMS therapy.

TMS treatments may have other limitations specific to a particular provider or particular TMS protocol, so ask for a specific list of conditions and requirements before scheduling treatment sessions.

Can TMS Make You Feel Worse?

On the internet, some people have claimed that TMS treatment led to negative repercussions in their lives. Upon closer inspection of these claims, readers will find that in every case, extraneous circumstances are likely the cause for the alleged negative effects of TMS therapy. TMS therapy should not make you feel worse, however, if you become uncomfortable during treatment, you can inform a staff member or clinician and they will pause or discontinue TMS treatment.

During TMS treatment, patients may talk, read, or watch TV. Most patients experience clinical improvement by the tenth session, or in about 10 weeks. Over 70% of patients experience relief from depression symptoms and may also notice benefits in their sleep, energy, motivation, irritability, and tearfulness. Once you’ve finished an entire course of TMS treatment with Neuro Wellness Spa, we stay in touch. Every three months, our care team will encourage you to check in with yourself and your mental health. If you need follow-up care or another course of TMS therapy, we’re here to help.

beverly hills transcranial magnetic stimulation or tms chair

Where Can I Receive TMS Therapy?

Neuro Wellness Spa is one of the longest-running TMS clinics in the country. Our team is experienced and compassionate, and we’re here to help you feel better.

Most major insurance carriers cover the cost of TMS treatment for major depressive disorder. If you would like to find out what your coverage for transcranial magnetic stimulation looks like, a member of our care team will be able to go over your benefits over the phone.

Call Neuro Wellness Spa today to learn more about how TMS therapy can help treat depression and other mental illnesses.

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