Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a successful therapy to treat major depressive disorder. Research is ongoing for this drug-free treatment option’s many neurological and mental health applications. Since 2018, TMS has been FDA-approved to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For those grappling with OCD, this treatment can be a lifeline in a sea of relentless thoughts and overwhelming compulsions you think you’ll never be able to fully escape.
How Does TMS Work?
TMS clinicians utilize MRI-strength magnets to create pulses, which are transmitted via a coil on your scalp to your brain. The providers and technicians send these pulses to the parts of your brain responsible for mood, emotion, and behavior regulation. These pulses cause the brain to release neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that help counteract your particular disorder.
Additionally, TMS helps reset your brain’s electrical system. The stimulation helps stimulate your brain cells, and they can regenerate, grow, and strengthen, leading to better chemical balance and brain functioning. These changes can be long-lasting, essentially rewiring or reprogramming your brain. It’s as simple as how a muscle gets stronger with exercise. Your brain does the same!
Does TMS Work Well For OCD?
Standard treatment for OCD includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) medications. These drugs improve symptoms in approximately 20% of patients with OCD. They also come with a long list of side effects: agitation, nausea, dry mouth, headaches, dizziness, and changes to your sex drive. There have been limited treatment alternatives for those that cannot tolerate the side effects or don’t see an improvement in their symptoms.
Now, there’s TMS. Treatment is drug-free, has limited side effects, and, most importantly, is effective. Research shows that 45% of patients fully responded to TMS therapy one-month post-treatment; even more participants had a partial response to TMS. Another study found an initial response rate of nearly 73% across 22 clinical sites and a sustained rate of 52% in patients with OCD who received TMS. Patients report improved energy levels, mood, and reduced symptoms.
Why Even Treat My OCD?
While the promise of TMS treatment is tempting, two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental disorder don’t seek treatment, according to the CDC. Next to schizophrenia, OCD is one of the most likely mental health disorders to lead to disability. This fact could be due to the accompanying symptoms: constant checking, cleaning or hand washing, ordering, arranging, hoarding, intrusive thoughts, and intense anxiety or distress. Or potentially because OCD often has comorbid conditions such as ADHD, anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders.
Leaving your OCD untreated leaves you vulnerable to developing more mental health conditions. Your current OCD symptoms could also continue to get worse until it becomes challenging to hold a job to support yourself, maintain your social support network, or even leave your house to perform necessary tasks like going to the grocery store. While treatment can be daunting, the alternative is much worse.
TMS offers a customized treatment tailored specifically for you, with fewer side effects. It can augment your current treatment regimen to achieve better results, so you can use it with SSRIs and CBT.
What Would TMS Treatment Look Like?
First, you need to find clinics that offer TMS for OCD. Start with a quick internet search for “transcranial magnetic stimulation near me.” Most clinics will provide a free consultation where you can confirm they treat OCD, and they can ensure you don’t have any conditions that would exclude you from TMS therapy.
The TMS expert should be able to give you a better idea of what your specific treatment will entail, but a typical treatment will be somewhere in this range:
- Five treatments per week, once daily
- Therapy for four to six weeks
- Roughly 20 to 36 sessions in total
After the initial session, including some assessments and staging to get the rest of your treatment setup, each session should be between 10 and 30 minutes. The first session should be approximately 90 minutes.
The sessions take place in a comfortable treatment room, similar to a spa treatment. You are awake the whole time and can watch TV, listen to music, or just relax during therapy. Some patients report a mild tapping sensation on their scalp as the TMS machine runs or mild scalp discomfort or headaches during the first week of treatment. These side effects can be relieved with over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which are safe to take during TMS.
You are allowed to resume your normal activities after treatment, such as driving. Many patients schedule their treatments on their lunch breaks and return to work afterward without any issues.
With OCD, even getting out of your house can be a challenge, let alone going to a health clinic to undergo TMS therapy. However, TMS can effectively treat your OCD and greatly improve your quality of life. Find a clinic that understands your specific compulsions and can work with you to accomplish each session. Each completed treatment day increases your chances of living without intrusive thoughts or checking that every light is off multiple times before you can think about leaving your house. Take the first step to fully control your life and speak to a health professional about your treatment options today.