The Limitations of DIY TMS and At-Home Devices

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive outpatient brain treatment. It utilizes MRI-like magnetic pulses to stimulate brain cell activity and growth in areas that control mood and emotions. Clinicians test the pulses’ location, strength, and speed to individualize treatments for each patient and treatment. They also will modulate the length of each treatment, how many treatments you receive per week, and how many treatments you receive depending on several factors.

Since the FDA approved TMS in 2008 for treating depression in a clinical setting, several companies have released at-home TMS devices to the market. However, they only treat migraines right now. In the future, you may be able to treat even your depression at home. But here are some limitations to keep in mind:

Devices Use Different Currents Than Clinical Counterparts

These at-home devices use a variation of TMS current in smaller and safer doses. It’s a different form of noninvasive brain stimulation that increases brain cell activity. With lower doses, the results may be slower and not as significant compared to what clinical TMS treatments can achieve. While clinical TMS currents are safe, they require TMS experts to oversee their delivery.

There’s a Lack of Direct Supervision

As mentioned above, the device current is low enough with home TMS devices that direct supervision is not required. For migraine treatments, you can easily position the at-home devices. However, it may be more challenging for other brain treatments. This study points out we need more research to ensure the efficacy of using at-home devices for depression treatments.

In clinical settings, TMS is carefully calibrated before treatment, and clinicians administer TMS through a coil placed on the scalp. The placement is critical for treatment effectiveness and safety. Clinicians use many techniques to precisely locate and target specific brain regions. Without this expert supervision, treatment accuracy could be a challenge.

You Don’t Get Individualized Treatment Plans

While at-home TMS devices for mental illnesses are still in the research phase, it’s important to remember mental health condition treatments are highly individualized. Treatment plans take these differences into account. Under supervision, providers can monitor progress, adjust treatments, and modify plans accordingly. At home, you don’t have the same flexibility. At-home TMS treatment right now is a one-size-fits-all approach, which is never the best option.

Clinical counterparts are incredibly customizable and can treat various disorders. For example, TMS centers in Washington can treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and much more.

There’s No Device Monitoring

One study testing the effectiveness of miniaturized TMS devices for home use found they needed to replace coils frequently to maintain appropriate treatment pulses. Using these devices at home means there’s no one monitoring them. If anything goes wrong with the device, users may not notice, posing additional safety risks.

At the very least, you wouldn’t receive appropriate treatment from the device. But you also wouldn’t have anyone monitoring your response to treatment or potential side effects.

There’s Less Research

Prior to FDA approval, TMS underwent at least 20 years of clinical testing and studies. The Do It Yourself (DIY) TMS devices for migraines have FDA clearance, but they need more clinical review and study time to show their effectiveness for other ailments.

This research shows that mini TMS devices can be effective in treating depression. However, the study’s main limitation is that the researchers used them in a controlled environment instead of the patients using them independently in their homes. Future research needs to study the effectiveness of these home devices when patients use them at home on their own.

You Have Limited To No Access To Advanced Technologies

Home TMS devices are safe because they only deliver low-level energy pulses. While they may be an option for someone with very minor symptoms of depression or someone who cannot get to a TMS treatment clinic, you don’t have access to the same level of technology and advances in research.

With NeuroStim TMS Centers’ continued expansion in 2024 across Washington State and other States, individuals suffering from major depressive disorder will have access to accelerated TMS for depression in any of NeuroStim’s TMS treatment centers. Accelerated TMS is a highly condensed form of treatment. Instead of taking weeks, treatment takes only days, drastically reducing the time it takes for you to start feeling relief. You will have to wait many years before achieving the same results at home as you can at Neurostim TMS centers.

While DIY TMS treatment devices you can use at home are convenient, they are only in the research phase for treating depression. You must consider the limitations: the lack of professional oversight, varying application precision, and the inability to individualize treatments can impact the efficacy and safety of home TMS therapy. It’s crucial to balance convenience and accessibility and ensure everyone receives the highest quality of mental health care.