TMS FAQs: How Long before TMS Works?

by Theodora Blanchfield

If you've been dealing with treatment-resistant depression, you've likely already tried several depression medications or therapies. Maybe they only partially worked, or didn't work at all, so now you're considering transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS. At this point, all you want is to find relief, so you're probably wondering how long before TMS works. Read on to learn more about TMS and when you might feel better if you try it.

How Does TMS Work?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation works by creating a magnetic field above your head targeting the prefrontal cortex in your brain, which is known to be underactive in people with depression. The magnetic pulses pass through the skull, creating electrical currents that trigger activity in the nerve cells in that region.

During treatment, your technician will start by placing an electromagnetic coil against your head and switching it on to create stimulating pulses. You may hear a tapping or clicking sound, and you'll feel tapping on your forehead for several minutes. The process is usually well-tolerated and it's convenient in that there's no need for anesthesia, so you'll be able to drive yourself home afterward.

How Long before TMS Works?

TMS treatment, while effective, does require a bit of a time investment on your part. Typically, sessions will take place five days a week for up to six weeks, and they last about 20-50 minutes each. This may sound like an inconvenience, but many people actually appreciate having some time during their busy days when they can simply sit and relax, and at the end of treatment, patients sometimes mention that they’ll miss coming in every day. About 60 percent of those who try TMS see results, with some individuals even going into a full remission of symptoms.

How Will I Know TMS Worked?

Results will look different from person to person, depending on how they felt in the first place. Some common changes include having more interest in doing things, sleeping better and more restfully, having appetite return to usual levels, seeing energy increase, and finding concentration and focus improve. For some, the positive changes may be more gradual and therefore difficult to notice. It sometimes takes a spouse or close friend to notice this kind of gradual progress, so ask your loved ones to keep an eye out and let you know if they notice anything different.

In addition, people who feel better after receiving TMS may also enjoy more effective talk therapy or be better able to find the energy and motivation to stick with healthy habits like exercising. These compounding benefits may ultimately decrease the need for maintenance therapy.

It can be discouraging to not see results immediately, but it's important to stick with it through the end. Remember that everyone experiences TMS a little differently. Some people don't experience an improvement until they've completed their full course of TMS. Others start feeling better right away, and then experience a dip in their mood before improving again. That's why it's important to see your treatment plan through to completion and talk with your TMS provider about how you're feeling to get the best results possible.

If you’ve tried several different depression medications and still don't feel like yourself, remember that you have options. Contact us to learn if TMS might be helpful for you.

If Covid-19 and social isolation are heightening your symptoms of depression, Greenbrook TMS therapy may be able to help. At Greenbrook, we specialize in TMS therapy — an FDA-cleared, non-invasive treatment for treatment-resistant depression and OCD without harmful side effects. See if TMS therapy is right for you by clicking here to take a brief assessment:

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