Not every person who is depressed can tolerate the side effects of antidepressants, nor are the medications always effective. So if a treatment with few side effects that targeted a specific region of the brain was available, would you be interested?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) may be that treatment. In 2009, TMS was approved by the FDA as an alternative form of treatment for treatment resistant patients. It uses technology to alter brain functions similar to what happens with medications and even electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). It’s being used to treat depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, and other cognitive disorders. The Mayo Clinic reports that TMS works best for people with moderate depression who have not been able to tolerate antidepressants. But keep in mind, this treatment doesn’t work for everyone, especially those who have not responded to electro-convulsive therapy (ECT).

According to Eastern Virginia Medical School, a TMS device generates a magnetic field that passes through the brain. The magnetic field is a powerful electric current that causes a therapeutic effect on the cortex of the brain. The current rebalances dysfunctional brain circuitry like a reset button on a computer. In terms of depression, the magnetic field stimulates nerve cells that improve depression.

The beauty of this treatment is that it is generally pain free and rarely shows any side effects.  In some cases, patients have noted mild headaches and muscle pain after the procedure.  A few patients have reported persistent ringing in the ear, and in very rare cases, seizures have resulted. The number of treatments needed varies with diagnosis. Drawbacks are that it can take several weeks to work and can be expensive.

Although there is more to learn about this procedure, it is a promising tool as an alternative treatment. For those who have not found success with medications, other therapies, or cannot tolerate side effects of medications, this is one more advance that might have real promise. In the case of any new treatment, however, we need time to evaluate if there are any long-term side effects and how to best use the treatment.  If you consider this treatment, talk to your physician about potential risks and benefits so you can make an informed decision and decide if it is worth the cost.

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