Transcranial magnetic stimuli or TMS is a noninvasive procedure that utilizes magnetic fields to stimulate the brain’s nerve cells to improve depression symptoms. Most medical practitioners use this treatment when other treatments to treat depression have been ineffective.

How TMS Works

The doctor places an electromagnetic coil against the person’s scalp near their forehead. The electromagnet then delivers a painless magnetic pulse to stimulate the brain’s nerve cells that function to control mood and depression.

The repetitive transmission of electromagnetic pulses into the brain improves mood and eases depression symptoms. Another term to describe this function is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) or repetitive TMS.

The Risks of TMS

Since TMS is a noninvasive procedure to treat depression, it does not require the implantation of electrodes or surgery. Unlike electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), it does not require anesthesia or cause seizures. Even though this procedure is a safe treatment for depression, it can result in some side effects.

Common TMS Side Effects

The side effects of TMS are normally mild to moderate and do not last long after the session ends. These side effects also decrease with time as the person receives more TMS sessions. The side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Scalp discomfort at the area of stimulation
  • Spasms, twitching, or tingling of facial muscles

Uncommon TMS Side Effects

These side effects are, even though rare, include:

  • Mania, specifically in people diagnosed with bipolar disorder
  • Seizures
  • Hearing loss if there is inadequate ear protection during treatment

Before you undergo TMS, the doctor will require you to take a physical exam, including lab tests, followed by psychiatric evaluation. You should inform your doctor if you are pregnant or if you have a metal or any other implanted device in your body, are taking medication, have a history of seizures, have brain damage, suffer from frequent or severe headaches, have a mental health disorder, or any other medical condition.