Debunking Five Myths About Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

There are many misconceptions about transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) that have discouraged patients from exploring it as a viable treatment option. Some believe it is still experimental. Many worry that their insurance will not cover the treatment, making it too costly. Others believe it’s an unsafe or invasive treatment like electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT). Other common concerns are that the effects are short-lived or it takes too much time out of your busy schedule to complete. We aim to dispel these myths and show how accessible TMS depression treatment is for you.

1. It’s Just Like Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy

A common misconception is that electroconvulsive shock therapy is the same as TMS – they are easily confused since they are both types of brain stimulation. While both ECT and TMS can be used to treat depression, the similarities end there. ECT delivers electrical currents to interrupt nerve cell signals in all parts of the brain, causing seizures. It requires patients to undergo anesthesia, and they need time for their brain and body to recover.

Instead of using electricity, TMS uses magnetic fields to stimulate the brain’s neurons during treatment. TMS is newer in the realm of psychiatry and offers a non-invasive treatment option as compared to ECT. An electromagnetic coil is placed on your scalp to send magnetic pulses into focused brain areas associated with anxiety, depression, and impulse control. The pulses help strengthen and regenerate your brain’s signaling abilities to regulate behavior and mood.

2. TMS Is Unsafe

TMS was approved by the FDA in 2008 to treat major depressive disorder. The FDA’s approval has since expanded their approval to include other conditions.

TMS is actually one of the only depression treatments not to have side effects that reduce patients’ quality of life. Medications for anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic pain all do. The only reported short-term side effect in studies has been scalp discomfort where the electromagnetic coil is placed. Other minimal side effects that have been anecdotally reported were fatigue or headaches that resolved within one to two days after beginning treatment. No long-term adverse side effects have been reported.

TMS therapy is extremely non-invasive and can be completed in a comfortable, outpatient setting. During treatments, you may recline in a comfortable spa-like environment without any need for sedation. Patients do not need to recover and can return to normal activities immediately after their treatment.

3. The Effects Wear Off

Multiple studies conducted in the past 15 years have shown the effectiveness of TMS therapy for the treatment of depression. Not only are the results significant, but patients show a decrease in symptoms for an extended period of time.

In a study conducted by Cress in 2015, over 70% of the patients achieved remission for their depression during the acute phase of treatment. Many of those patients were still considered in remission after a follow-up four years after their last TMS treatment.

Other studies have used quantitative electroencephalograms (qEEG) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans before and after the TMS treatment to track the physical changes in patients’ brains resulting from TMS treatment. These scans show the physical changes and improved brain signaling in the targeted areas of the brain that lead to overall symptom reduction.

A 2007 double-blind study was conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health to discredit that TMS treatment is merely a placebo effect. In this study, 146 patients received placebo TMS treatments and 155 patients received real TMS treatments. Neither the researchers or the patients knew which group they were in or which treatment they received. The group receiving real treatments showed significantly better results than the control group.

4. Treatments Take Too Much Time

Since TMS therapy is performed in an outpatient setting, it can be done quite quickly. Your initial appointment may take an hour or more. However, subsequent treatments will only take around a half an hour or less. As TMS continues to gain acceptance among patients, there are more offices offering the treatment. You can cut down on travel time by scheduling at an office near you. TMS is also non-invasive, so you can leave practically the minute treatment is completed. Some patients even get treatment on their lunch break.

5. Insurance Companies Do Not Cover It

This myth stems from insurance companies’ classification system and whether TMS treatment is considered “necessary ” or not. Typically, TMS treatments for psychiatric and neurologic conditions that have been unresponsive to conventional medications are considered eligible expenses. It is covered by most major insurance companies, but you should review your insurance benefits just to be sure. The bottom line is that TMS is covered, but the cost of treatment varies depending on your specific health plan.

It is important to note that while TMS works well when traditional treatment options are not working, it is encouraged to be done in conjunction with other treatment methods such as talk therapy or medications. You may find that you do not need to continue with your prescribed treatments once you complete TMS therapy, but it is important to work with your provider to find what works best for you.

TMS is a great option for those suffering from depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Compared to other treatment options it is less invasive, safer, and carries less risk of side effects. Lasting changes in your own mental health or that of a loved one can be achieved through a series of short treatments that could be covered by your insurance. TMS depression therapy has changed the lives of many people suffering from treatment resistant depression, major depressive disorder (MDD), and bipolar depression. You could be next.