San Diego, California - Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. Transcranial magnetic stimulation may be tried when other depression treatments haven't worked.

With TMS, a large electromagnetic coil is placed against your scalp near your forehead. The electromagnet used in TMS creates electric currents that stimulate nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood control and depression.

Because TMS is a relatively new depression treatment  -  approved by the Food and Drug administration in 2008 - more studies can help determine how effective it is, which treatment techniques work best and whether it has any long-term side effects.

Depression is a treatable condition, but sometimes standard treatments aren't effective. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be used when standard treatments such as medications and talk therapy (psychotherapy) don't work.

How it works

How TMS helps relieve depression isn't completely understood. It's thought that magnetic pulses stimulate nerve cells in the region of your brain involved in mood control. This stimulation appears to affect how this part of the brain is working, which in turn seems to ease depression symptoms and improve mood.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is the least invasive of the brain-stimulation procedures used for depression. Unlike vagus nerve stimulation or deep brain stimulation, TMS doesn't require surgery or implantation of electrodes. And, unlike electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), it doesn't cause seizures or require complete sedation with anesthesia. However, TMS does have some risks and can cause some side effects.

Common side effects

TMS often causes minor short-term side effects. These side effects are generally mild and typically improve after the first week or two of treatment. They can include:

  • Headache
  • Scalp discomfort at the site of stimulation
  • Tingling, spasms or twitching of facial muscles
  • Lightheadedness
  • Discomfort from noise during treatment

Uncommon side effects

Serious side effects are rare. They can include:

  • Seizures
  • Mania, particularly in people with bipolar disorder
  • Hearing loss due to inadequate ear protection during treatment

More study is needed to determine whether TMS may have any long-term side effects.