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TMS for Depression: What You Need to Know

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A recently approved non-medication treatment for depression, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), is more effective than traditional antidepressants in individuals who do not respond well to traditional treatments. Learn more about the possible benefits of this treatment method and other natural methods below.

According to recent studies, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), might be a more effective method for treating depression and improving mood than traditional depression medications.

Currently, about 20 million Americans suffer from clinical depression, and even more suffer from pre-depression symptoms. According to depression expert Dr. Mary Jo Hanigan, only two-thirds of these people respond to traditional depression medication. The remaining third must deal with the depression on their own- risking self-harm or even suicide- or try alternative therapies. Dr. Hanigan and other medical experts have listed TMS as a possible alternative treatment method for individuals who do not respond to traditional medications or who do not want to take medication for depression. Find out more about the effectiveness of this treatment below.

What is TMS?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. This is designed to improve symptoms of depression by normalizing the nerve response in the brain. Some studies on depression show that in individuals with depression, the brain often has trouble completing the circuits of brain chemicals such as serotonin and 5-HTP. Using magnetic stimulation can encourage the brain to function normally, which can reduce some symptoms of depression.

According to The Mayo Clinic, TMS is often used in one-third of patients who do not respond well to traditional medications for depression. During TMS treatment, an electromagnetic coil is placed near the forehead. The current stimulates nerve cells in the brain involved in depression and mood control- normalizing the chemical reactions in the brain and reducing depressive symptoms. 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.

TMS was first approved as a treatment for depression in 2008 and few long-term studies have yet to be conducted since the treatment is so new. However, short-term studies have found largely positive results with the TMS treatment method.

Scientific and Clinical Studies on TMS

In 2010, Brain Stimulation published the results of a study focusing on the effectiveness of TMS. This study examined the effectiveness of TMS therapy on 201 patients suffering from major depression. Some patients received full TMS treatments and others received fake TMS treatments for six weeks. At the end of the study, 84 percent of the individuals receiving the real TMS therapy were followed for 24 weeks following the treatment and did not have any relapses. The study authors concluded that TMS therapy is durable in the majority of cases.

Another side study tested emergency TMS therapy when combined with traditional depression medication and TMS was found to be effective as a short-term therapy as well. The study authors concluded that “The results of the follow-up study further support TMS as a viable treatment option for patients with major depression who have not responded to conventional antidepressant medications.”

A similar study was conducted in 2014 on 307 patients suffering from severe depression who were resistant to traditional antidepressants. After treatment, 62 percent of patients saw some improvement in depressive symptoms and 41 percent saw complete remission. The study authors followed up one year later and found that 68 percent of patients showed some improvement and 45 percent reported complete remission.

Benefits of TMS

The main benefits of TMS are that it is a form of depression treatment that can work on individuals who do not respond to traditional antidepressants. TMS does not have many of the common side-effects associated with traditional antidepressants such as weight gain, memory loss, sleepiness, or sexual problems. No sedation or surgery is required.

Aside from the physical benefits, TMS appears to have positive benefits for at least a year after treatment. There is some evidence that TMS may improve the brain’s ability to process brain chemicals on its own, essentially reprogramming the brain’s neural pathways to prevent depression.

TMS Side Effects

Although TMS does have many benefits, there are a few side effects of the treatment method. Side effects are often mild and usually disappear a few weeks into treatment or after the treatment cycle is over. Side effects can include:

Possible Side Effects of TMS 


  • Headaches
  • Scalp irritation
  • Facial spasms, twitches, or tingling
  • Lightheadedness 


  • Seizures
  • Mania (more common in patients with bipolar disorder)
  • Hearing loss

Is TMS Right for You?

TMS is an exciting new treatment option for depression that is not invasive and has fewer side effects. If you have not responded to traditional antidepressants or do not want to risk the dangerous side effects, then TMS could be a viable treatment option. Discuss the treatment option with your doctor as soon as possible. In the meantime, adding depression-fighting supplements, exercising outdoors, and eating a healthy diet can all fight depression naturally from the inside out.





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