Depression Treatment Tms

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS therapy, is an outpatient treatment for depression. It’s often effective in cases where more traditional depression treatments, such as medication and therapy, have failed. During transcranial magnetic stimulation, an electromagnetic coil is used to stimulate nerve cells in the brain that are linked to depression and other mood disorders. Its effects are similar to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), but TMS for depression is painless, requires no sedation and has few apparent side effects.

What is TMS Depression Treatment?

TMS therapy is a daily treatment that takes place over a period of four to six weeks. During a TMS session, a large electromagnetic coil is placed against the patient’s head. The coil sends a series of magnetic pulses to the left frontal side of the brain. These pulses cause weak electrical currents that stimulate the brain’s nerve cells. Each session lasts approximately 40 minutes.

How TMS Therapy Affects the Brain

Because TMS therapy is a relatively new treatment, scientists aren’t sure exactly how or why it works. Some researchers believe that the electromagnetic currents stimulate certain neurotransmitters in the brain that are associated with depression–specifically serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Stimulating these neurotransmitters is believed to alter brain chemistry and improve mood.

Although it’s too early to learn the long-term effects of TMS depression treatment, early results appear promising. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (2009), 54 percent of people who received TMS for depression experienced notable improvement in their symptoms.

Risks of TMS Depression Treatment

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a non-invasive, relatively safe form of depression therapy. It does carry some risks, however. Minor short-term side effects are common, including:

  • Eye pain
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Scalp discomfort from the electromagnetic coil placement
  • Stress
  • Tingling, spasms or face twitching
  • Toothaches.

In rare cases, TMS therapy can cause severe side effects, such as:

  • Hearing loss, usually due to ineffective ear protection during the procedure
  • Mania, particularly for people with bipolar disorder
  • Seizures.

Are You Considering TMS for Depression?

Although TMS depression treatment is non-invasive, it isn’t for everyone. Several conditions can increase the risk of adverse and potentially dangerous side effects associated with TMS for depression.

For example, pregnant women should not undergo TMS therapy. People with metal or implanted medical devices, such as pacemakers, should also avoid TMS, since these devices may interfere with transcranial magnetic stimulation. In rare cases, TMS therapy may cause seizures, so it’s not recommended for anyone with a history of seizures. TMS is only intended to treat depression; it shouldn’t be used in an attempt treat bipolar disorder, psychosis or suicidal behavior. Talk to your doctor or psychiatrist for more information.


Mayo Clinic. (2010). Transcranial magnetic stimulation. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2009). Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS or rTMS). Retrieved July 25, 2010, from

Regence. (n.d.). Mental health section – Transcranial magnetic stimulation as a treatment of depression and other psychiatric/neurological disorders. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from