Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive treatment for major depressive disorder. It works by using magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.
TMS is typically used when other treatments for depression, such as medication or therapy, have not worked.
How TMS works
TMS works by delivering electromagnetic energy painlessly via an electromagnetic coil placed against your scalp.
The magnetic pulses stimulate nerve cells in the area of the brain involved in depression and mood.
TMS is believed to work because it activates areas of the brain with less activity when one is depressed. Why it works isn’t completely known, but it seems to ease depression and improve mood in a majority of patients.
Several factors influence the effect of TMS on the brain:
- The design of the coil
- Location of the stimulus
- Head location
- Single pulses vs. repeated pulses
- Intensity of stimulation
- Frequency of stimulation
Who is eligible for TMS?
To be eligible for TMS, patients must have:
- Treatment-resistant major depressive disorder
- At least one failed medication at or above the minimum dose
- Moderate or severe depression
There is no age limit to receive TMS.
What to expect during treatment
TMS is typically performed in a doctor’s office. You will be seated in a comfortable chair for the duration of the treatment.
Before anything happens, you will be encouraged to enter a relaxed state of mind by listening to alpha wave music and/or focusing on an object, such as a painting. This helps your brain become more receptive to treatment.
Once you are relaxed, a magnet is used to locate your prefrontal cortex, which is where depression “lives” in the brain.
Your doctor will determine the amount of magnetic energy needed by placing the magnet on your scalp.
Once the right dose has been identified, the magnet then delivers pulses at this intensity for a total of 30 minutes. You will be awake and alert for the entire treatment.
You can return to your normal daily activities after your treatment. Between treatments, most patients can typically work and drive.
Risks of TMS
TMS is a noninvasive treatment. It does not require surgery or implantation of electrodes. Although it is considered safe, there are some potential side effects:
- Scalp discomfort at the site of stimulation
- Tingling, spasms or twitching of facial muscles
To reduce these symptoms, your doctor can reduce the level of stimulation or recommend taking an over-the-counter pain medication before the procedure.
After each treatment
If TMS works for you, symptoms of depression may improve or go away completely.
Most patients experience relief after a few weeks of treatment.
After a TMS treatment series, medication and psychotherapy may be recommended as ongoing treatment.
Treatment after depression recurrence
Sixty percent of patients with severe depression will respond to TMS. Of people treated with TMS for severe depression, 60% will remain depression-free after one year.
If your depression improves with TMS and later recurs, the treatment can be repeated.
About our TMS clinic
The UCI Health TMS clinic has been treating patients with severe depression since 2017. It is led by board-certified Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Bota, who studied transcranial magnetic stimulation at Harvard University and Medical University of South Carolina.
To be evaluated for transcranial magnetic stimulation, call 714-456-5902.