TMS Therapy FAQs: How Does TMS Work?

by Laurence Lippsett

Many people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have tried talk therapy or medications—often for years—without finding the relief they sought. Further, they may have experienced unpleasant side effects from medications, including weight gain, nausea, and loss of sex drive. If these scenarios sound familiar to you, you may have treatment-resistant depression (TRD) or treatment-resistant OCD.

While managing TRD and OCD can be challenging, there are effective treatments available, including Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). If you've been looking for a treatment that'll work for you, you may have come across references to TMS in your search and wondered, how does TMS work?

Read on for an explanation of how TMS works so you can begin to decide if TMS therapy is the right treatment for you.

How Does TMS Work?

TMS therapy uses magnetic pulses to treat depression or OCD. These gentle pulses are targeted to the area of the brain that regulate moods and is known to be underactive in people diagnosed with MDD or OCD. The pulses create small, painless electrical currents that stimulate nerve cells in the area, which help restore the brain's normal function and, as a result, alleviates symptoms. They also activate the release of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, adjusting imbalances that can lead to MDD and OCD.

TMS is a non-invasive, non-medication treatment conducted in outpatient settings, and it requires no anesthesia or drugs.

What Is Treatment Like?

Treatment varies by individual, but a typical TMS treatment course involves five sessions per week over a period of 6 weeks, followed by three more weeks of fewer sessions. During the first treatment, your Greenbrook TMS psychiatrist will identify the precise areas of your brain that may be contributing to your symptoms, and establish your unique treatment settings on the TMS device. This first session can be a little longer because of the time it takes to fine tune the settings, but after that, each session usually takes approximately 20 minutes.

During treatment, you will simply sit in a comfortable chair, awake and alert, while a device near the scalp delivers the magnetic pulses. You'll hear clicking sounds and feel a slight tapping on the scalp.

Patients often nap, meditate, watch television, use their phones during treatment. After a treatment session, you can immediately return to your normal routine and activities, including driving.

Most people tolerate TMS well, with the most common side effects being mild headaches or scalp discomfort at the stimulation site during or after treatment. That said, the technician can make adjustments if the tapping sensation feels uncomfortable to you. You can also use over-the-counter analgesics to lessen any discomfort if necessary.

Does TMS Work?

Randomized controlled clinical trials and studies published in scientific journals support the safety and efficacy of TMS for depression and OCD. Most patients begin to notice positive responses by the fourth week of treatment, though some take longer to feel better. The relief can last many months, sometimes more than a year. Symptoms can recur, but if they do, it's not a cause for alarm. You can return for subsequent courses of treatment with a very high chance of responding well again.

If traditional treatments such as talk therapy or medication simply aren't working for you, TMS is a non-invasive treatment option that may be a great fit. To find out more, you can reach out to Greenbrook to discuss whether TMS therapy would be effective 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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