Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

I have been undergoing a treatment of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for a few weeks now.  A lot of people are not familiar with what TMS is, and I have found it difficult to give a brief explanation to those who are curious.  Here I am going to try to explain the basics of TMS from a patient’s perspective.

To be a candidate for TMS you must have medication resistant major depressive disorder (MDD).  While TMS may help other conditions, MDD is the only condition for which TMS has been approved by the FDA.  I have taken many medications over several years and undergone intensive talk therapy, and for that reason, I had a relatively easy time of getting TMS approved by my insurance company.

So, what is TMS?  TMS is a treatment in which a strong magnet (I’ve been told the magnet is the same strength as that of an MRI) is positioned over a specific region of your brain, and activated in 30 second intervals.  Four seconds of pulsing, 26 seconds of rest.  This lasts for about 37 minutes, five days a week, for 7 weeks.  The good news about TMS is that you are awake the whole time, it is not painful, and you are able to drive right after a treatment.  You can read, or watch tv, or nap during the treatment (though the machine is loud, so napping may be a challenge).  I always choose to read while receiving my treatment.

During the first session, you are mapped.  This involves the doctor finding the spot in your brain that causes a twitch in your right thumb.  Next they figure out the correct intensity for you by seeing at what strength your fingers twitch.  After they have found the spot and strength, they move the magnet forward 5 mm.  This is where you will receive treatment.

On occasion, there is mild pain with the treatment during the first set of pulses.  This is because it can make your facial muscles twitch.  When this happens, I communicate with the technician, and they find a more comfortable position for the magnet.  TMS can cause headaches, though I think they typically stop after the first few treatments.  I only had a headache after my first treatment.

I found at first that I had some sleep disturbances from the TMS, and was told that since it is stimulating my brain, that is a possible side effect.  Just like many medication side effects, once my body got used to the treatment, the sleep issues went away.

Receiving TMS is a bit of a time commitment, since you must dedicate just under an hour every week day for seven weeks, but it has been found to be significantly helpful for many patients.  I was initially told that I wouldn’t feel a difference until 3 or 4 weeks into treatment, however, I found my mood increased much faster than that time span.  I have since hit a plateau, which I was sure to communicate to my treatment team.

If traditional medications and therapy are not working for you.  It may be worth talking to your doctor about TMS.  It’s certainly worth giving it a chance, and who knows, maybe it will allow you to enjoy a depression free life.


Click here to find TMS treatment near you.

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