How Effective Is TMS: Depression Treatment Hope For People With Resistant Symptoms

By Tanisha Herrin

Updated July 10, 2019

Using transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS to treat symptoms of depression is a fairly new concept that is still being researched. Through previous clinical trials, it has shown promising results. People coping with depression may rely on traditional treatment options, such as prescribed medications and therapy. But some may experience depression symptoms that are persistent even with changes in their current treatment options. People may view TMS as another form of hope to manage or eliminate their symptoms. It may provide relief for people dealing with resistant depression symptoms even while researchers continue to understand how effective the treatment option has been so far.

What Is TMS And What Does It Do

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TMS or transcranial magnetic stimulation is a treatment option originally approved by the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) to treat symptoms of depression. It uses magnetic energy pulses throughout parts of the brain to encourage better communication between brain cells. The pulses created by the magnetic energy stimulate areas of the brain responsible for your mood and what leads to depression symptoms a person experiences. There are variations of TMS and how it is given depending on the needs of the patient

Studies are ongoing to understand how it affects the brain and how long the effect will last. It is not clear if the brain sustains any damage or negative effects that would affect how it functions in the future. Patients can continue regular activities just as they did before treatment

TMS for depression has shown positive results from previous clinical trials and recent treatment sessions from people seeking additional treatment options for resistant depression symptoms. The treatment includes using a special device or helmet that is placed on the patient's head. It gives electromagnetic currents to the brain through the skull. A patient may receive impulses to the brain for several minutes in intervals. Some may attend sessions several days a week for four to six weeks as part of their treatment.

The treatment has an easy process that requires no sedation, surgery, or anesthesia. Side effects from treatment may include experiencing mild scalp discomfort or a headache after a session, but many reported they were able to take over-the-counter medications to treat it if it didn't go away on its own. A patient qualifies for treatment based on their history of depression symptoms, including symptoms that haven't responded to other treatment options.

Understanding Its Effectiveness

Researchers are still learning about how TMS affects resistant symptoms of depression. The concept of using magnetic currents to stimulate parts of the brain relates to a belief that certain parts of the brain are simply non-responsive, leading to a person experiencing depression. While traditional treatment options such as antidepressants and therapy may help with certain symptoms, others that don't respond may see an improvement through TMS because it is affecting the brain differently than other methods.

Patients have reported improvements with resistant symptoms with most using at least one form of a traditional treatment method along with TMS sessions. What people have experienced and at what level has varied. Some report they no longer needed to take antidepressants. Others say they noticed a decrease in symptoms or they were in remission. Patients may see their symptoms minimize or disappear for a year or so after treatment. While these results seem promising, some mental health experts to believe depression may be caused by several factors, including social, biological, and psychological. Meaning, in most cases, patients shouldn't rely on TMS alone to get rid of symptoms of depression.

Why There Is Hope For Treating Resistant Symptoms

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People dealing with severe or major depression for an extended period may experience resistance with their treatment options. Sometimes making adjustments to their treatment helps temporarily or shows no results. Because TMS is fairly new, there is potential to help people with depression as more research is completed. Depression itself is complex and may occur with other mental health concerns. Research is also ongoing to understand how depression and other mental health issues affect the brain. TMS, like any other treatment option for depression, may experience changes and improvements to help people gain and sustain favorable results.

Since early research results show favorable evidence it is helping people treat stubborn symptoms, TMS is being used to treat other conditions that affect the brain in different parts of the world including forms of anxiety, chronic pain, addiction, and different diseases that affect mobility and cognitive behaviors. TMS is approved for adults over the age of 18, but some child and teenage patients are considered for treatment, including those with autism.

The interest continues to grow about TMS with more insurance companies willing to cover related costs. Treatment sessions are expensive, but because extensive studies conducted previously show positive results, more people seeking relief from resistant symptoms are open to learning more about it or decide to give it a try if they get the okay from their doctor.

Some coping with stubborn depression symptoms are frustrated and want to know what else they can do to feel better. Many who have tried TMS dealt with persistent feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide. Since there is evidence of patients having such strong feelings report, they were minimized or put in remission gives hope to people who have felt the same feelings for a long time.

Potential Challenges Related To TMS

Many who see this as a last hope for treating resistant depression may run into some issues before they can get treatment. Patients have to learn if they qualify for treatment, and certain health conditions make some ineligible. Qualified technicians administer TMS with tools and equipment authorized by the FDA. Some locations may not have this option available due to limited professionals providing the service and the fact it takes time for patients to complete a round of treatment. Some locations may only see so many patients at a time with sessions lasting between 20 and 40 minutes. Researchers are looking into how they can reduce the time needed per session while still achieving favorable results. There are other TMS device options available for use, but each may provide different results.

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As mentioned earlier, the cost of the treatment is expensive, starting at around $10,000. People interested in the service may have insurance that won't cover the cost. Patients interested in TMS need to know beforehand if they can afford the option with or without insurance coverage. Patients likely need a referral to obtain this treatment. Patients need to review and compare treatment options with their doctor, especially if they are coping with symptoms from other mental or physical health issues.

What Happens If TMS Doesn't Work

Patients are hopeful the treatment option would help them may experience little or no changes in their symptoms. Researchers are continuing to studying why some showed no results. There are some theories about variations in how the brain receives the magnetic impulses with some patient's brain cells not reacting to the currents. Some experts believe there could be a lack of understanding of how the currents penetrate the skull and brain, creating varied results of how the brain was stimulated or if stimulation even occurred. Some experts believe one side of the brain is responsible for the development of depression, but other experts say there isn't enough research to support this claim.

Few that reported they saw no changes in their symptoms remain hopeful. During the sessions, the licensed technician is in the room with the patient the entire time. Those that reported no changes in their depression symptoms say they still found the technician to be helpful because of the social interaction during the sessions. People may place much focus on getting TMS for their symptoms, but many technicians say patients tend to overlook the importance of socially interacting with others with their depression symptoms.

As a result, few that didn't see changes in their symptoms still benefited from the session. Patients experiencing isolation, particularly, found some comfort being about to talk with the technician during their sessions and gained more perspective on how to cope with their symptoms.

TMS Is A Reminder To Keep Fighting

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Experiencing resistant depression symptoms is challenging and may leave some discouraged. While TMS creates new opportunities for relief, people with stubborn symptoms should remain hopeful. If TMS is seen as a last resort and symptoms persist, know that there are still people working to help you get relief. TMS was approved for treatment by the FDA in 2008, so it is likely other potential treatment options for depression are in the works.

It may be difficult waiting for relief, but you don't have to do so alone. Continue working with your doctor, therapist, or mental health specialist with your treatment. Adopt healthy habits to improve your lifestyle. Know who you can talk to when you need to talk about your feelings or seek therapy. Work on building social relationships with people you care about and establish new ones through online forums and local support groups.


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