Transcranial magnetic stimulation. With a name like that, it’s no wonder that this medical treatment is shrouded in misunderstanding.

FDA-approved for the treatment of a variety of pain and mental health conditions, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive treatment that is effective for about 70-80% of patients. It works simply by delivering an electromagnetic impulse to stimulate the brain cells responsible for processing emotion.

If the words “electromagnetic impulse” are triggering visions of electroshock therapy, we get it. But we also want to clarify some of the misunderstandings about what TMS is and who is eligible for these treatments.

MYTH #1: TMS is just a fancy name for electroshock therapy

Electroconvulsive therapy—known more commonly as electroshock therapy—is a treatment in which seizures are induced in the brain to provide relief from severe mental health conditions. This treatment is performed while the patient is under general anesthesia.

This is not at all what TMS is.

A TMS treatment lasts about 20 minutes and is completely non-invasive. Through nodes applied to the patient’s head, a gentle and painless magnetic impulse is delivered to stimulate the development of new cognitive pathways. There are minimal side effects—for example, a mild headache or sensitivity at the treatment site — and no recovery time.

TMS is effective for 70-80% of patients suffering from depression, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and more.

MYTH #2: TMS doesn’t really work: it’s all in the patient’s head

Clinical trials funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that 50% of patients suffering from treatment-resistant depression responded significantly to TMS, and 33% went into complete remission.

More than 2 million TMS treatments have been performed, and TMS has grown from a depression treatment to a treatment for several other psychological and neurological conditions.

MYTH #3: TMS is expensive and insurance won’t cover it

Actually, TMS is covered by most health insurance plans, providing the patient qualifies for the treatments. To qualify for TMS treatments, most insurance companies will require that the patient has resisted two or more alternative depression treatments or medications.

MYTH #4: TMS may cause brain damage, tumors, or memory loss

We want to be very clear about this: TMS does not injure or kill brain cells. Several studies using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology to monitor brain activity during TMS therapy have proven that TMS is not detrimental to the brain in any way.

TMS uses the same type of magnetic energy as is used by MRI technology, which has been used by tens of millions of patients around the world. However, the amount of magnetic energy used in an entire TMS therapy treatment course is just a small fraction of what is used by one brain scan with an MRI.

MYTH #5: TMS causes personality changes

TMS doesn’t change a patient’s personality, though, as their depression symptoms begin to lift, the patient may notice that they have increased energy levels, better concentration, a rekindled passion for old hobbies, and a general sense of peace or serenity.

Even though “transcranial magnetic stimulation” sounds a bit scary, we assure you there is nothing to fear. The symptoms of a chronic psychiatric disorder or pain condition, in our opinion, are much scarier!

Learn more about transcranial magnetic stimulation or contact us using the brief form below to find out if you or a loved one is a candidate. If TMS isn’t the right solution for you, we may have another treatment that is more appropriate for your symptoms and long-term goals.

About the Author

Kim Sandberg is the owner and founder of Alleviant Health Centers of San Diego and a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. She has two advanced degrees: a Masters of Science in Nursing as a Nurse Anesthetist and a Doctor of Nursing Practice. She has worked in a variety of settings, though the biggest impact on Kim and her work came from her 28 years of service in the Navy Reserve. By opening Alleviant Health Centers, Kim hopes to provide much-needed care for patients who struggle with mental health and chronic pain—especially to the population of veterans and servicemen who desperately need help. Moreover, she is excited to contribute to the holistic health movement by bringing integrative holistic psychiatry and other innovative treatments to the community of San Diego.

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