TMS: Truths and Myths

TMS: Truths and Myths

The thought of having your brain stimulated may bring some feelings of uncertainly, but let’s clarify the facts about TMS.

While not an exhaustive list, below are some clarifications for some of the most common misconceptions about TMS:

Misconception: TMS therapy is painful.
Truth: Most patients have reported a light tapping sensation on their scalp while undergoing TMS, but no pain. Sometimes headaches occur as a side effect, as well as slight scalp irritation at the site of coil placement, but both of these side effects are mild in pain or discomfort and quickly subside.

Misconception: TMS requires patients to go to the hospital.
Truth: TMS is administered on an outpatient basis at your local physician’s office. Patients remain fully awake during the session, and in fact, sometimes they are even given tasks to do during the therapy such as problem solving, talking or writing. No sedative medications or hospitalization is necessary for TMS.

Misconception: After undergoing TMS, I will not be able to drive, or return to work/school.
Truth: Patients are readily able to drive and go about their normal daily activities after undergoing TMS. Unlike therapies such as electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), with TMS there is no general anesthesia (or “going under”) so there’s no time needed for patients to regain consciousness and/or wait for drug effects to subside.

Misconception: Medications such as sedatives and muscle relaxants are needed before undergoing TMS.
Truth: Patients are not given any medications prior to undergoing TMS. Some patients may be currently taking prescribed medications such as antidepressants while undergoing TMS, but the antidepressants, nor any other medications are not required for TMS therapy.

Misconception: TMS is not safe.
Truth: Across many research and clinical studies on TMS, there has been no evidence of TMS being an unsafe form of therapy. TMS is well tolerated and has not shown evidence of severe or adverse effects in patients.

Misconception: TMS will produce memory loss.
Truth: Memory loss has not been a commonly reported symptom in patients after undergoing TMS.

Misconception: TMS produces seizures, much like ECT.
Truth: While seizures are a possible side effect, they are very uncommon in patients after undergoing TMS. Further, ECT therapy involves inducing a seizure, whereas TMS does not. Instead, TMS involves administering magnetic pulses through a coil that is placed against the scalp.

Misconception: TMS is considered a “cosmetic therapy” and therefore will not be covered by an insurance company.
Truth: While some insurance companies may not cover the TMS, or may not cover all TMS sessions, many major commercial insurance companies do cover the cost of the TMS therapy, as it is prescribed by your physician.

Misconception: TMS is not effective.
Truth: Many ongoing clinical research studies are trying to determine the effectiveness of TMS, particularly in the long-term, so far the results have been promising with TMS working well for patients. Especially when given as a short-term therapy, TMS has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression. TMS may be a good option for patients who have not responded as well to more common therapies such as medications. What is clear is that TMS does not appear to be worsening symptoms or causing harm to patients. TMS can also be combined with other therapies, which may increase the effectiveness of both therapies. Finally, every patient is different and TMS could be a good therapy for some people, but not so much for others. Therefore, it is important to talk with your physician and decide together whether TMS is right for you.

Misconception: TMS can only be used as a therapy option for adult patients.
Truth: TMS therapy could potentially be prescribed for patients of all ages, although it’s currently FDA approved for adults only. Researchers have wondered about how TMS therapy could potentially affect children, as their brains are still developing. However, the current research on TMS therapy given to adolescents has not shown detrimental effects, and therefore, TMS is thought to be safe for adolescents. Some clinicians may reason that administering TMS therapy to adolescents is comparable or even safer than prescribing medications to treat conditions such as ADHD.