Alternative Treatments For Depression: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) May Improve Mood, But Awaits FDA Approval

Alternative Treatments For Depression: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) May Improve Mood, But Awaits FDA Approval Medical News Today

While common treatments for depression such as prescription drugs, psychotherapy and electroconvulsive therapy usually provide relief from even the most severe cases for depression, there are people who do not feel they benefit from these treatments, and because of such look for alternative means to combat this serious medical condition.

One other option is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), which hasn’t yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat depression, but may be available through a clinical trial.

This non-invasive method excites neurons in the brain by using weak electric currents, which are delivered to the brain by rapidly changing magnetic fields, also known as electromagnetic induction.

It is believed that this nerve stimulation improves mood and there’s some evidence it may make nerve-cell connections more efficient. Because of this, TMS has shown promise as a non-invasive treatment of depression.

Alternative to Electroconvulsive Therapy?

For people who cannot find relief from traditional treatments for depression, TMS may seem to be a more desirable treatment than electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which it has been compared to, simply because it is non-invasive, does not require anesthesia, and is not associated with convulsions, all of which are associated with ECT.

TMS also appears to have fewer and less serious side effects, such as memory loss and confusion, both of which are associated with ECT.

How TMS Works

Completely non-invasive and painless, TMS involves placing an electromagnetic coil against the patient’s scalp. An electric current passes through this coil that creates a magnetic pulse, which causes small electrical currents in the brain.

These currents stimulate nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood regulation and depression.

Why It Works

Physicians and medical researchers are not yet exactly clear on why this nerve cell stimulation works; however, it is believed that stimulating the brain can change how it works and that by stimulating the regions associated with mood regulation, mood can be improved.

In some types of TMS, brain activity is suppressed. In other types, brain activity is increased. In either case, the changes may be associated with improved mood. These improvements in symptoms may last for days or weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic, a not-for-profit medical practice with locations in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida.

Keep in mind that researchers are still trying to determine the best dosage of stimulation and the best area of the brain to stimulate.

Who May Benefit

Remember, TMS remains experimental, which means it is not to be used as a first-line treatment against depression. Currently, it is only available in the United States through clinical trials.

In countries where TMS has been approved to treat depression, it’s generally used to treat people who haven’t experienced improvements with standard treatments.

To determine if you or someone you know is a candidate for this experimental procedure, you will need talk to your doctor to see if it may be a good option for you or for a loved one who is suffering from depression.

Who Should Not Undergo TMS

Certain people should not undergo TMS because of increased or unknown risks to their health. These include anyone with: metal implants in the head, who may be pregnant or who has a pacemaker.

Additionally, TMS is not suited for patients who suffer from recurring migraines, who has had a stroke or who has a family history of seizures. And, if you have had neurosurgery, TMS is not for you.

TMS Side Effects

Despite being non-invasive, TMS does pose a risk of adverse side effects, with the most concerning being the increased risk of seizure. Because of that risk, the International Society for Transcranial Stimulation (ISTS) advises “that the procedure be performed only when medical help is quickly available and that those who administer it be trained as first responders who can provide emergency medical help,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

According to the ISTS, other common side effects and adverse health problems associated with TSI include lightheadedness, headache, pain at the site where the electromagnetic coil is placed against the scalp, tingling, spasms or contractions of facial muscles.

The Long-Term Outlook

Because TMS prompts changes in brain function, it is important to understand that there may be unknown long-term adverse side effects associated with the treatment.

While research has not yet determined any negative long-term side effects, it is important to talk to your medical doctor or mental health specialist to understand the possibilities here and to weigh these carefully with your medical professional.

Remember, TMS is currently available through clinical trials only, so your treating physician or mental health professional will have to help you find a clinical trial that will work for you and your unique situation.

About the Author Kellie Fowler is an award-winning writer and has written for Associated Press, PR Newswire, Fortune 500 companies, newspapers, national business and healthcare magazines. She is regular contributor to, a website providing information about types of depression, treatment options and depression related articles and resources.
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