How does transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) differ from electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

Both TMS and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are used to treat severe depression.

ECT has been used in the United States for more than 70 years and creates a more generalized brain stimulation. It sends a small electrical current that is sent through the brain to trigger a short seizure. The current causes a short seizure within the brain, which produces changes in the brain’s functioning and chemistry. The patient needs anesthesia during the procedure. ECT is usually recommended several times per week over three to four weeks.

The patient may experience confusion and some memory loss after the ECT procedure. Because anesthesia is used, additional risks must be considered, and means longer preparation and recovery time for each session.

The doctor may recommend ECT if a patient has tried multiple medications or therapies that have not worked, or if he or she is suicidal, psychotic or catatonic.

In contrast, TMS is a more recent form of treatment. It is a much more targeted procedure. The patient is awake and alert the entire time. Side effects of TMS are minimal and the patient does not suffer any memory loss.

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