Transcranial magnetic stimulation, most often referred to by the acronym TMS, is a medical treatment aimed at conditions caused by neuron activity in the brain. Whether the medical issue taking place is due to too much neuron activity or too little, TMS can often provide a possible treatment that can help many patients in certain cases. TMS is a very specific form of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT).
While ECT in general has been practiced in some form since the 1940’s and 1950’s, according to WebMD, TMS has been receiving more attention in recent decades as a variety of laboratory studies has shown the expanded potential this treatment has to help a variety of patients, as indicated by the over 60 clinical trials TMS has been featured in, according to Brainsway.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation works as a treatment because it’s used as a form of brain stimulation. Why? There are a wide variety of different afflictions that come almost 100% from a brain that just isn’t functioning the way that a normal brain does. Since the way the brain works is similar to electrical currents, the use of small amounts of electricity can be used to “jolt” parts of the brain into functioning closer to a normal rate to allow for a normal release of hormones or allow the neurons to fire normally to return to a more normal state of thinking.
The idea with brain stimulation is that some sort of force is used to fix underperforming areas that could be causing issues. Neurons not being conducive to the brain’s signals could cause depression, or an overactive area could be causing migraines. Magnetic waves are a popular choice because they can affect brain waves without causing damage to the skin or brain itself.
Everything from emotions to addiction to depression and some forms of obsessive compulsive disorder can all be caused simply because the neurons in the brain of a patient don’t fire the way they do in other people. This is why brain stimulation like TMS offers opportunity for healing that conventional prescription drugs and other conventional treatments might not.
The process of TMS
When a patient is undertaking this treatment, they first have to remove any metal objects that may get caught up in a magnet. Magnetic pulses are used, but because of the loud clicking sound that the TMS tools make, it is important for the patient to use earplugs to protect their hearing. According to Johns Hopkins, it’s important for the initial setup and testing to be done carefully.
Every patient is going to be a little different when it comes to how much force they need to make a solid impact. On the other side of that, you don’t want to put too much force through a brain when a much smaller pulse gets the neurons firing the way they need to be. This is done through a special coil that is designed to release short magnetic pulses throughout the brain, allowing it to help affect how the brain’s neurons are firing.
TMS is non-invasive in nature, with the magnetic tools placed in areas around the head to focus on the most direct path to the part of the brain that most likely needs treatment. This can vary based on the particular treatment but generally speaking the main objective of TMS is to provide a non-invasive way to stimulate neurons to be more conducive to the brain’s electrical signals. Often times depression or migraines can be traced back to these being less responsive than average.
The patient is put in a relaxing situation and treatments involve the movement of a magnetic pulse coil around their head to administer the pulse. This is, once again, why removal of metal objects and jewelry is so important. Depending on the situation treatments are usually done one or more times a week over a 4-6 week time frame.
What can TMS treat?
TMS is rarely considered the first option when it comes to treating certain conditions, but it has showed very promising results as a treatment for a wide array of conditions that are rooted in how the brain is wired. TMS has even received FDA approval for two treatments, including depression that appears resistant to every other form of treatment, and for treatment with recurring migraines.
Just a few of the conditions that TMS can treat include:
- Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Quit smoking treatments
- Treatment resistant depression (FDA tested and approved on this one)
Are there any potential side effects of TMS?
According to Psych Central, TMS doesn’t have a large number of potential side effects, but there are two that have occurred in some laboratory studies. The most common potential side effects include fainting and even more occasionally, seizures. Both of these side effects are rare, but they have occurred. There does seem to be a potential correlation between the number of treatments used, and the length of those treatments, versus the likelihood of seeing some of these infrequent side effects.
The side effects from TMS are relatively rare, and not as serious as some of the side effects of treatments many people have to try before getting approved for TMS. Because of this, many professionals consider transcranial magnetic stimulation to be a treatment worth taking the risk on since the potential treatment benefits so heavily outweigh the potential side effects.