An estimated 21 million adults in the United States suffered from at least one major depressive episode in 2020.
While many are prescribed antidepressants, there are alternative treatments with promising results gaining popularity among sufferers.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an alternative brain stimulation therapy. It can improve symptoms of neurological or mental health disorders, including major depression.
But what are the side effects of TMS therapy?
Learn more about TMS therapy's side effects before weighing up your treatment options.
What Is TMS Therapy?
TMS therapy is a noninvasive procedure. The technique uses magnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in a specific brain area. It is a treatment designed for people with severe depression who haven't had any success on antidepressant medication.
While TMS has shown great promise with major depression, it is also a possible treatment for schizophrenia, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In 2008, the FDA cleared TMS therapy for treatment in depressed adult patients when antidepressants have failed to work. Although it was developed in the 1980s, relatively few know about TMS's advantages and disadvantages.
How Does TMS Work?
TMS works by treating the underactive areas of the brain that are responsible for your mood with mild magnetic pulses that stimulate cells and improve brain function.
These pulses encourage the cells to re-activate and release mood-enhancing signals throughout the body, relieving stubborn depression symptoms.
During a TMS session, an electromagnetic coil is placed against the patient's head. The coil directs a concentrated magnetic field to pre-determined mapped areas on the brain. It encourages the brain to produce serotonin improving mood and relieving symptoms.
As the magnetic pulses are delivered into the brain, it will make a clicking noise, and a patient may also feel a tap on their head with each pulse. This is entirely normal. While earplugs are provided, many choose to listen to music through earbuds or headphones.
Treatment sessions vary in length. This typically depends on the number of pulses delivered. For most patients, treatment lasts around 40 minutes. Once finished, patients are welcome to resume their everyday duties.
Is TMS Therapy Safe?
Yes. Unlike other invasive treatments, TMS does not require surgery and is considered safe and well-tolerated.
Some of the benefits of TMS include:
- Promote improved sleep
- Elevate mood
- Provide long-lasting relief from depression
- It does not require anesthesia
- Improve mild anxiety
Many patients who receive TMS therapy report several improvements in their depression symptoms. They include an elevated mood, decreased feelings of sadness, and a renewed interest in hobbies.
Side Effects of TMS Therapy
As with any treatment, it's important to understand the pros and cons. While the negative side effects of TMS therapy are minimal, knowing what to expect will help you decide whether to go ahead with the treatment.
The following are possible transcranial magnetic stimulation side effects that patients may experience during treatment.
Mild headaches are one of the most common side effects patients report when undergoing TMS therapy. Headaches during and after TMS are not uncommon and are typically resolved with over-the-counter pain relief. Patients are more likely to experience headaches during their first session, but the frequency decreases with subsequent sessions.
While the pulses are emitting, patients may experience mild scalp irritation. This is caused by the light tapping sensation on the scalp. The few who experience scalp pain often find it improves over time as they get used to the tapping sensation.
It is not uncommon for patients to experience mild neck pain during and after their treatment session. The pain tends to diminish throughout treatment. However, adjustments can be made in coil repositioning and stimulation settings to reduce discomfort.
Most TMS patients experience no side effects, but some report tingling sensations in the jaw, face, and scalp. However, most find the tingling sensation decreases within a few weeks after the completion of treatment.
Because TMS utilizes magnetic waves to stimulate peripheral nerves, patients may experience mild facial twitching. While it may feel odd, it is normal to feel your face twitch during treatment sessions. They are harmless and nothing to feel concerned about.
Low Risk of Seizures
The vast majority of patients who undergo TMS will not experience seizures. However, there are several factors that can impact the probability of seizures.
Factors include patients with:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Excessive alcohol use
- Sleep deprivation
Healthy patients with no preexisting conditions have an extremely low risk of experiencing seizures due to TMS therapy. A recent study found that the risk of TMS-related seizures is <1% overall.
Depending on how you respond to the treatment, TMS therapy can last for about 4 to 6 weeks with five sessions per week. This requires a significant time commitment that not everyone can achieve.
However, TMS therapy does not require sedation that can interfere with the ability to work or drive. Once your session is over, you can resume normal activities.
Depression Medication Side Effects
Antidepressants are the most common medicine prescribed to treat major depression. They aim to correct chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Unfortunately, antidepressants can cause unpleasant side effects. The following are possible antidepressant side effects that patients may experience.
Nause is a common side effect during the first few weeks of taking the medication. As your serotonin levels increase, the stimulation can cause GI-related symptoms such as nausea. Patients may also experience nausea when treatment is stopped too suddenly.
Weight gain is an unpleasant side effect of nearly all antidepressant medications. Some patients are unfazed by weight gain as it outweighs their symptoms of depression. While others, especially younger individuals, are more affected.
Dry mouth is a typical side effect of many antidepressants. That's some because antidepressants have an inhibiting influence on saliva production. This may lead to a dry mouth.
Many patients find sipping water regularly, and chewing gum are strategies to reduce dry mouth.
Blurred vision is not an uncommon side effect for patients taking antidepressants. Select SSRIs such as Prozac and Lexapro can affect the muscle function of the eye and make it difficult to focus on objects. Depression medications may also increase the risk of developing cataracts in order patients.
While uncommon, serotonin syndrome is a severe set of side effects linked to SSRIs and SNRIs. It occurs when your serotonin levels are too high. Symptoms may include:
- Muscle twitching
More severe serotonin syndrome symptoms include seizures, arrhythmia, and unconsciousness.
The ultimate goal of antidepressants is to reduce the symptoms of depression. In rare cases, patients may experience suicidal thoughts and a desire to self-harm. This typically occurs in patients under 25.
Those who experience suicidal thoughts on depression medication should reconsider their treatment options.
Who Cannot Get TMS Therapy?
TMS therapy isn't for everyone. While it is considered safe, some people should avoid this treatment.
You cannot get TMS therapy if you have the following:
- Metal devices or objects implanted in your head
- History of epilepsy or seizures
- History of substance abuse
- Facial tattoos with metallic ink
- Stents in the neck or brain
Since TMS has a strong magnet, patients with any form of a metal non-removable head implant are advised not to pursue this treatment. The magnet can make implants move or heat up, causing severe head trauma.
Who Will Benefit From TMS Therapy?
TMS doesn't work for everyone. But when it does, symptoms of depression can improve significantly. In some cases, they may go away completely.
To benefit from TMS therapy, you will need to be the right candidate. You may be able to have TMS therapy if you:
- Have a major depressive disorder diagnosis
- Traditional medications have failed to work
- You're not satisfied with the results from traditional medication
- You can't tolerate the side effects of medication
- You have an illness that restricts what types of medication you can take
- Your depression continues to interfere with your day-to-day life
During your initial consultation, your physician will review your history and conduct an assessment to determine if TMS therapy is right for you.
Invigorate Your Life With TMS Therapy
When you consider the side effects of TMS therapy, it's important to weigh them up against other forms of treatment, including antidepressants.
At the end of the day, TMS has advantages and disadvantages. While antidepressants may provide short-term relief, some people need to take them long-term to experience continued success. Coming off can also cause withdrawal and set you up for a relapse.
On the other hand, TMS therapy works relatively quickly with a high success rate for treating depression. While you may experience symptoms, these are generally mild and will go away after several treatments.
If you're suffering from severe and debilitating depression, TMS therapy may be right for you.
Contact of TMS office in Mt. Airy Maryland to schedule a consultation today.