What is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is a treatment for people with severe depression whose illness has not been helped by at least one antidepressant medication. It is a type of brain stimulation therapy. TMS elicits magnetic energy, which turns into electrical current underneath the patient’s skull, to help regulate the patient’s emotions.

TMS is an adjunct treatment that works along with medication and is non-invasive (does not require surgery).

What is depression?

Depression is a common and serious medical illness. One aspect of depression is a lack of activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, or the area right above the eyes, that helps control emotions. It affects how the patient feels, thinks and acts.

Symptoms of depression may include:

  • Feeling sad
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain without dieting
  • Lack of energy or feeling tired
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If these symptoms last at least two weeks or longer, the patient should see a health professional for diagnosis of possible depression. The illness can be treated.

What other conditions can transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) be used to treat?

TMS has shown great promise treating the depressed patient, but is also being studied for possible treatment of other conditions, such as vascular depression following a stroke. Also, researchers are looking at TMS as a possible treatment for schizophrenia, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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