Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS): Frequently Asked Questions

This guide will answer some of the most common questions about TMS, so you can learn more about whether it might be a good treatment for you.

  1. What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)?

TMS has been used to treat major depressive disorder since the 1980s. This FDA-approved, nondrug therapy is a noninvasive procedure utilizing magnetic fields to stimulate the brain’s nerve cells. It is performed by placing a treatment coil over the patient’s head to deliver brief magnetic pulses to a specific part of the brain with technology similar to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

  1. How does TMS work?

Regions of the brain associated with mood regulation, such as the prefrontal cortex, receive magnetic pulses passing through the skull and into the brain. During a session, the electromagnetic coil is placed near the head, which painlessly sends magnetic pulses

  1. What is treatment-resistant depression?

When standard depression treatments prove minimally effective, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can provide relief from symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD). Treatment-resistant depression is unfortunately common, and while antidepressants play a valuable role for two-thirds of adults suffering from MDD, as many as one-third of adults cannot shake their persistent feelings of sadness, low energy, suicidal ideation, and other bothersome symptoms.

  1. Will TMS work for me?

TMS is a very powerful tool to achieve relief from MDD. About 50 to 60% of patients treated with TMS experience significant, clinically meaningful responses with TMW, and about one-third of these individuals have full remission from MDD, while another one-third reduce their antidepressant medication therapy. Most patients who benefit feel improvement after 3 to 6 weeks of treatment, if they respond.

  1. What is TMS treatment like?

During your treatment regimen, you will need to have sessions 5 days per week for approximately 6 weeks. Each session lasts between 20 to 50 minutes, depending on the clinical protocol. A psychiatrist will determine the “landmark” in the brain to determine the treatment site.

  1. Am I a good candidate for TMS?

Patients who have failed to improve from prior antidepressant medication therapy who are willing to devote the time to TMS therapy may be considered good candidates. Insurance coverage may depend on more factors, such as trying 4 or more antidepressants without relief from symptoms, and a referral from your psychiatrist.

  1. Is TMS safe?

There have been many clinical trials to test the safety of TMS, and it has been proven as very easy to tolerate, and it is FDA-approved for treating MDD. Thousands of patients have been treated with TMS, and the most common side effects include mild or moderate scalp discomfort or mild headaches, and usually these side effects go away after the 1st week of treatment. No long-term side effects as associated with TMS.

  1. Is TMS as effective as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

ECT, sometimes mistakenly called “electroshock therapy,” is a last-line treatment for MDD. It is the most potent treatment for MDD, yet it has certain risks that deter many patients, such as potential memory loss. TMS is an effective alternative to avoid ECT.