WASHINGTON, February, 25, 2012 - TMS is almost new. It has been around several years, and is getting more media buzz everyday as a treatment for medication-resistant depression. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is the use of magnetic pulses to stimulate mood related areas of the brain. It can be used in tandem with antidepressants, or in lieu of medication.
No Lasting Side Effects
Although some people experience mild to moderate scalp discomfort when first starting TMS, the discomfort is transient. Weight gain, lethargy, sexual dysfunction, or dry mouth, all possible consequences of antidepressant use, have not been reported by TMS clients. Neither have users complained of memory or concentration problems after treatment.
Only a few patients, about 5%, have discontinued TMS because of discomfort during the procedure. Or, maybe they quit because the process reminded them of early mad scientist movies. The treatment provider attaches an electromagnet on the prefrontal cortex area of their patient’s scalp. Short, repetitive magnetic pulses are then fired at the brain’s mood headquarters, the limbic system.
Why TMS Helps
TMS pulses activate the neurons in our limbic system causing mood lifting chemical changes such as an increase in levels of neurotransmitters. With more dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine cruising about the brain, most patients eventually start to feel better. Users have reported TMS depression relief lasting up to six months.
TMS treatment is four to six weeks long and patients have five sessions each week. They must have tried at least one antidepressant at a therapeutic dose, without success, before qualifying for TMS.
Some concern has been expressed about this procedure possibly triggering mania, seizures, hearing loss, or the development of brain tumors, but there are no reports of these effects occurring.
Those who undergo TMS, even several times, have less exposure to electromagnetic fields than people who undergo a few MRI scans. Since MRI scans have never been associated with the development of brain tumors, TMS practitioners believe this procedure will not be either.
Not Just a Regular Magnet
How is TMS different from treatment with regular magnets? Regular magnets are weaker and do not send pulses through time and space to targeted parts of our gray matter. The magnetic energy from regular magnets is diffuse and cannot zero in on the amygdala and hippocampus (limbic system).
No one predicts TMS will replace antidepressants, at least not yet. There is research being done to see whether TMS can effectively treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Maybe someday we will all have a portable TMS unit to stick on our skull when we wake up feeling cranky, but so far TMS is FDA cleared to be administered by professionals.
Resource: Mayo Clinic website
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