Guide to TMS Therapy

Two types of procedures used to treat depression are electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Although both have proven to be effective in their treatment, there are considerable differences in how these two procedures work.

Electroconvulsive drug

Originally introduced as a medical procedure in the 1930s, ECT has come a long way as regards efficacy and safety. Mental conditions in which ECT has been successful in treatment include catatonia, and severe mood disorders that are resistant to treatment. ECT has also been used as a last resort to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, Parkinson’s disease and, among others, Tourette’s syndrome.

In a controlled setting, ECT treatment is administered using electrical currents which pass through the brain of a patient, deliberately triggering a seizure in the process. The seizure causes changes in brain physiology which in some patients appear to be successful in reversing the symptoms of mental illness. Researchers have yet to come to an agreeable conclusion on how those symptoms can be successfully reduced by the chemical changes evoked by ECT Therapy.

ECT sessions run from 20 to 30 minutes, and are typically given two or three times a week over a period of two to four weeks. Following two or three ECT therapies patients continue to see results.

Risks associated with ECT treatment dramatically decreased from the time the procedure was performed without a specific protocol in place. Yet there is still the risk of side effects. Potential hazards include:

  • Uncertainty varies between a few minutes and several hours.
  • Loss of memory; appears to recover within a few months but may last longer.
  • Physical side-effects on the days following ECT treatment. Those cause nausea, muscle spasms and vomiting.
  • Health problems triggered by the use of anesthesia, a medicine used for medical procedures during treatment. Common side effects include heightened heart rate and increased blood pressure.

Magnetic Transcranial Stimulation

TMS therapy is done with the use of a gently positioned treatment coil against the scalp of patients seated in a reclining chair. The coil emits magnetic fields which stimulate the activity of the nerve cells in a brain area involved in regulating mood.

TMS Patients are typically given five weekly treatments over a period of six weeks. During a TMS therapy session, which lasts roughly 40 minutes, patients remain fully awake.

Unlike ECT therapy, TMS therapy does not require anesthesia or potential recovery time in the hospital. Although scalp pain is the most common side effect, rare seizure incidences were also reported during treatment with TMS.

Previous studies report a 50 percent drop in symptoms of depression among patients who use TMS therapy. Moreover, evidence shows that severe depression sufferers are less likely to experience relapse following TMS therapy relative to medication and treatment with ECT.

TMS therapy has shown considerable progress in alleviating depressive symptoms in patients since its introduction. Nonetheless, owing to the fairly recent nature of the procedure, the Federal Drug Administration ( FDA) is currently limiting the use of TMS therapy to adults who have struggled to produce antidepressant drug outcomes.