What Is TMS Therapy?
By: Sarah Fader
Updated January 29, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
There have been many ways to combat mental disorders. From counseling to pills, you think you've seen them all. But one way to combat therapy that you may not have heard of is TMS, and it can help revolutionize the way many disorders are treated, including depression.
TMS stands for transcranial magnetic stimulation.
How It Works
As you may have inferred from the name, TMS involves magnetism, and the magnets help to stimulate certain parts of the brain. A powerful magnetic field generator is put near your head, and the generator lets out currents to help stimulate your brain.
What It Can Do
Besides treating disorders, which we'll get into later, TMS can help diagnose disorders in the brain, as well as help, see damage to the brain. If you've had a stroke, multiple sclerosis, or any other disorder or injury, TMS can help see the extent of the damage, and this, in turn, can help treat it better.
TMS can also treat disorders, too. If you experience neuropathic pain, TMS can help to alleviate it. Perhaps the best treatment it's known for, however, is depression. Depression is typically treated with medication and therapy, but there are cases where the depression is so severe that those treatments have little to no effect. TMS can help those who experience depression finally be able to treat it after nothing else has worked.
Does It Work?
With magnetic therapy, you may wonder if it's effective, or if it's bunk. Luckily, it's the former. While there are still unknowns about TMS, such as what kinds of mental disorders it can treat, TMS was found effective by the FDA back in 2008 as an effective way to treat depression.
While it's still being recognized by health insurance providers as an effective treatment, it's progressing, and perhaps someday TMS will improve even further to be a safe way to treat depression and other disorders.
Why Does It Work?
For depression, the exact reasons why TMS works are not entirely understood. The brain is a complex organ, with many different parts, and by stimulating certain parts of your brain with magnetism, it can help reduce the symptoms of depression.
Are There Any Side Effects?
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself when doing a treatment like this is "Is it safe?" Well, the good news is that TMS is safe to use, but with all treatments, there are some slight chances of side effects.
Some side effects may include:
Discomfort/pain: You may feel achy after the procedure, but it should go away.
Hypomania: You may feel some euphoria after the procedure.
Hearing loss: Your hearing may lessen temporarily.
Memory loss: You may lose your memories briefly.
Fainting: You may feel faint or faint altogether.
Seizures: There may be an induced seizure, but the risk is rare.
Although some of these sound scary, the good thing is that they're extremely rare. No procedure is 100 percent safe, so talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
What Is The Cost? What About Health Insurance?
When doing TMS, or any procedure for that matter, the question that comes up is the cost. Is this a cheap procedure, or something that would cost me tens of thousands of dollars?
With any of these procedures, there is no straight answer. It'll depend on you, your doctor, and a few other factors. Luckily, TMS is cheaper than ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy. You may pay $500 a session for TMS. That doesn't sound too bad, but you need to realize that you may need multiple sessions for TMS to work. For ten sessions, you may pay around $15k.
Of course, while this is less expensive than some other therapies, that's still a lot of money for the average person. So what about health insurance? Can it help cover the bill?
The good news is that many insurance providers are starting to see the importance of TMS, and have decided to cover it. A few providers that cover it include Anthem, Health Net, Blue Cross Blue Shield in a few states, and a few others. Their coverage has been relatively new, with coverage starting less than five years ago so you should talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you're covered. As it's always changing, talking to them directly instead of trusting a single article is the best route. There are still some healthcare providers that are not on board with the idea of TMS being an effective treatment, so see which healthcare providers do.
If Medicare covers you, it's a bit spotty. Medicare in some places honors TMS, while others still don't believe it's effective. Talk to your Medicare provider before doing TMS to make sure you're covered.
So as you can see, TMS is a more affordable option, and as more insurance providers accept it, it'll be even better.
What To Expect
You may have to have a physical and psychiatric evaluation to be sure that TMS is right for you. When you begin your first appointment, it'll mostly be about the doctor figuring out what TMS treatment is right for you. You'll sit down in a comfy chair, wear earplugs, and then the electromagnetic generator will be over your head. The doctor will figure out which position works best for you, and then the doctor will figure out how much magnetic energy is needed.
The amount of energy needed depends from person to person, so the doctor will increase the dosage until they figure it out. Just sit back and be comfortable, and the doctor will take care of the rest.
The entire evaluation may take an hour. Other sessions will involve the same procedure but may take less. It'll be around 40 minutes, and you'll be awake. The procedure does not feel bad minus some discomfort, and you'll be out the door and ready for the rest of your day afterward.
Who Can't Have TMS?
With any of these treatments, there are certain groups of people who are more at risk for side effects. While these won't totally bar you from being able to do TMS, you should still talk to your doctor if you're any of the following:
Pregnant/Thinking of being pregnant: TMS is typically safe for women who are pregnant, and there don't appear to be any adverse effects on the baby. However, it's still worth talking to your doctor about if you're not sure.
You have implants or metal devices: Since TMS uses magnetism, you should worry a bit if you have any metal devices in your body, especially if they're used for medical reasons. This is another case by case basis; some people who have metal implants may be able to have TMS without any risk. But if you have cochlear implants, brain electrodes, pacemakers, stimulators, stents, medication pumps, or any other device like this in you, you may not be able to do TMS. Again, though, talk to your doctor and see if you can.
A history of seizures: As TMS can (rarely) induce seizures, it's worth mentioning too that if you or your family has had seizures or epilepsy.
Medications: Always tell your doctor what kind of medications you're taking, even if they're over the counter, to see if they'll clash with TMS.
Other Brain Disorders: If you have bipolar disorder, psychosis, or any other disorder that can affect your mind, talk to your doctor. The depression could be caused by that, and you may not even need TMS.
Frequent headaches: If you suffer from severe headaches, they may worsen through TMS. Talk to your doctor and see what the best route is.
Brain injury: Tell your doctor if you have any form of brain damage, no matter how minor it may be.
Any other questions: If you have any other question at all or any other medical concern, please bring it up while you're discussing TMS. It will help the doctor to make sure you're taking the safest path possible.
Is It Right For Me?
After reading about this, you may wonder if TMS is the right way to go. We don't know how to answer that without knowing you, and it depends on a case by case basis. If you're depressed, and nothing seems to work, you may qualify for TMS. There may be other mental disorders and injuries that could benefit from TMS treatment as well.
The answer, ultimately, is to speak to a professional. They should tell you if TMS is right for you, give you a frame for how much it will be, and be able to go through the process along with you.
TMS is a treatment that may be the future of how we battle depression. Maybe one day, we won't need medication and years of therapy to end the depression, but just a little bit of magnetism. If you want to be a part of that fight, talk to your doctor today and see if TMS is right for you.
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