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Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Safe?

June 21st, 2024


Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is increasingly recognized as a valuable treatment option for depression, particularly when traditional therapies have failed. One of the most popular questions asked when someone is considering TMS therapy is “ is TMS safe?”.

Let’s dive into what TMS involves and its safety profile to provide clarity for anyone considering TMS for depression. Let’s get started!

What Is TMS Therapy For Depression?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. It is primarily used to treat depression by targeting areas of the brain that are less active in individuals suffering from this condition. The procedure is typically administered in a doctor's office and does not require anesthesia, allowing patients to return to their daily activities immediately after treatment.

If you want to learn more about what TMS is, head to our blog “What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy?”.

Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Safe?

TMS has been approved by the FDA since 2008 and has undergone extensive testing for safety and efficacy. The most common side effect is a mild to moderate headache or discomfort at the site of stimulation, which generally subsides shortly after the session.

Unlike other forms of depression therapy, such as medication or electroconvulsive therapy, TMS does not have systemic side effects—meaning it does not affect the whole body.

Here are several key points regarding the safety of TMS:

  • Non-invasive and Non-systemic: As a non-invasive procedure, TMS treatment does not involve surgery or implants and does not require sedation or anesthesia. This significantly reduces the risks associated with invasive procedures.
  • No Cognitive Impairment: Clinical trials and real-world applications have shown that TMS does not cause memory loss or any negative cognitive effects, a notable advantage over some other treatments for depression.
  • Low Risk of Seizure: While the risk of seizure exists, it is extremely low. TMS is considered safe when administered following standard guidelines by trained professionals at a TMS clinic like Clarity Clinic.
  • Well-Tolerated: Most patients tolerate TMS well. The procedure can be adjusted to minimize discomfort and is generally well-received by patients, many of whom continue their normal daily activities immediately after a session.
  • Effectiveness: Studies show that TMS is effective in reducing symptoms of depression, often when other treatments have not been successful. This can significantly improve quality of life.

Is TMS FDA Approved?

As we mentioned above, Yes, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for treating a number of conditions, including:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (MDD): In 2008, the FDA approved TMS for adults with MDD who had not responded to other antidepressants.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): In 2018, the FDA cleared TMS for treating OCD.
  • Smoking cessation: In 2020, TMS was cleared for smoking cessation.
  • Anxious depression: In 2021, TMS was cleared for treating anxious depression.

Does Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Hurt?

Another common concern about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is whether the procedure causes pain. Understanding the sensations associated with TMS can help alleviate any anxiety or concerns leading up to your first TMS procedure.

Sensations During TMS

During a TMS session, patients may feel a tapping or clicking sensation on the scalp. This is caused by the magnetic pulses generated by the TMS device. The sensation is generally mild and is most noticeable at the beginning of treatment as one acclimates to the procedure. This tapping sensation does not cause pain.

Adjustable Intensity

The intensity of the magnetic field in TMS is adjustable. If a patient finds the sensation uncomfortable, the TMS technician can modify the settings to make the experience more tolerable. It's important to communicate with the technician about what you're feeling during your session, as this feedback is crucial for adjusting the treatment to ensure it is both comfortable and effective.

Temporary Discomfort

While there is no pain involved, some individuals may experience mild headaches or discomfort in the scalp during or after the treatment session. These symptoms are typically transient and can often be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. Furthermore, any initial discomfort usually decreases over subsequent sessions as the patient becomes used to the sensation.

Patient Experiences

Many patients report that their initial apprehension about discomfort subsides quickly after beginning treatment. The majority of patients are able to read, watch TV, or even chat with TMS technicians during their sessions, indicating a high level of tolerance for the procedure.

Overall Experience

While the sensation caused by TMS might be unusual at first, most patients find it quite manageable and not painful. The non-invasive, relatively gentle nature of TMS makes it a preferable option for many seeking relief from depression without the discomfort and side effects of more invasive treatments.

Who Cannot Have TMS Therapy?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy (TMS) is a safe and effective treatment for many individuals suffering from depression, but it's not suitable for everyone. Understanding the contraindications of TMS is crucial for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the treatment. Here are key considerations to determine who should avoid TMS therapy:

Presence of Metal in the Head

TMS treatment uses magnetic fields, which can interact with metal objects. Individuals with metal implants in or near the head, such as cochlear implants, aneurysm clips, or shrapnel injuries, are generally advised against undergoing TMS therapy due to the risk of these objects moving or heating up during treatment.

Epilepsy or Seizure Disorders

While TMS is known to have a low risk of inducing seizures, this risk can be higher in individuals with a history of epilepsy or other seizure disorders. It is vital to discuss your medical history with a healthcare provider to assess the risks thoroughly.

Cardiac Pacemakers or Other Implanted Devices

Similar to metal implants, cardiac pacemakers and other implanted medical devices might be affected by the magnetic fields used in TMS therapy. Patients with these devices should consult their physicians to understand potential risks.

Previous Neurosurgery

Individuals who have undergone surgeries involving the brain or the cranial cavity might have altered anatomy or residual metal hardware, might not be able to undergo TMS . Detailed medical and surgical histories should be evaluated before considering TMS.

Medication Considerations

Certain medications, particularly those affecting neurotransmitter systems, might interact with TMS. It's important to review all medications with a healthcare provider to ensure there are no increased risks when combining them with TMS therapy.

Consultation Is Key

Before starting TMS therapy, it is essential to have a thorough consultation with a healthcare provider like a psychiatrist, who can evaluate medical history, current health status, and any potential risks specific to your situation. This assessment ensures that TMS is both safe and appropriate for each individual.

Leading TMS Therapy in Chicago

If you are considering TMS treatment for depression, it's important to discuss it with a healthcare professional who is trained and experienced in administering TMS therapy. Together, you can determine whether transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy is the right approach for your specific needs.

At Clarity Clinic, the leading TMS clinic in Chicago, you would be working with a psychiatrist and trained TMS technician that specializes in administering TMS treatment for depression. Our team is committed to providing personalized care, using a comprehensive approach that includes an initial psychiatric evaluation, a tailored treatment plan, and continuous support throughout your transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy.

Whether you are exploring TMS therapy for the first time or seeking a new provider, Clarity Clinic offers the expertise, care, and support necessary to guide you through your recovery journey. Contact us today at our Loop or Arlington Heights office to learn more about how our TMS clinic can help you take the next step toward healing and renewal.

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