When beginning a course of treatment for any problem, it’s natural to have questions. Common concerns have to do with side effects, duration, and the potential for long-term changes. Fortunately, TMS side effects are mild, and a course of treatment averages just 4-6 weeks in length. During that period, each session lasts only about half an hour, with little-to-no recovery time required afterward. This therapeutic approach is an easy, non-invasive, outpatient option for addressing treatment-resistant depression, OCD, and anxiety.
How Long Does TMS Last?
The ultimate goal of any therapeutic approach is to equip patients with the tools and abilities they need to manage their psychological conditions, exist in society and enjoy their lives to the fullest. While many therapeutic approaches are long-term, most therapists will work with their patients to develop a termination plan, to prepare them for a life of independence from ongoing therapy. Some patients aren’t ready to work on that plan right away, while others immediately ask about the expected duration at the start of therapy. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is no different. One of the most frequent early questions is, how long does TMS last?
Like any course of treatment, TMS therapy isn’t meant to last forever. At the beginning of treatment, TMS sessions are scheduled regularly, sometimes as often as five or six times per week. As the treatment continues, these sessions are spaced farther and farther apart. As this tapering-off process begins, a patient may wonder what life will look like when the course of TMS treatment eventually concludes. It’s important to discuss this process with the whole healthcare team, to make sure there’s a clear plan in play. Although TMS therapy is very effective at producing results where other treatment options have failed, it’s not necessarily the end of the road to recovery. Often, when transitioning out of a TMS treatment course, it’s helpful to continue on to a more traditional approach. This could mean continuing to meet with a talk therapist, and perhaps continuing or resuming a course of medication, to ensure successful long-term symptom management. It is likely that any remaining symptoms of depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder will be greatly diminished by TMS, and will become more responsive to medication or traditional therapy than before.
TMS Side Effects
Side effects are an important consideration in any course of treatment, for any ailment. When it comes to treatment for major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, the first options are virtually free of side effects, because they simply involve talking and thinking. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Therapy are common starting places. These approaches help patients develop cognitive tools that allow them to cope with symptoms in a healthy, productive, and mindful way. Unfortunately, these approaches don’t always succeed in symptom reduction. This is where psychopharmaceuticals are generally introduced. Courses of medication often work great in concert with the therapeutic approaches mentioned above. However, there are potential drawbacks to medication, including a range of potential side effects that many patients find off-putting or downright debilitating. Patients who react badly to medication sometimes find the return of their symptoms preferable to living with the continued side effects. Others can’t afford to wait the usual month and a half it takes to fine-tune the dosage for effective relief.
In the past, when medication and therapy proved unsuccessful, the patient would be left with few options. The most common next step would be electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), an inpatient procedure in which the patient is sedated and an electric current is passed through the brain. While this used to be the go-to option for a range of psychological maladies that were resistant to other treatment, the invasive nature of the treatment, the severity of its side-effects, and the advent of TMS therapy have made ECT a less common approach.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation has side effects, but TMS side effects pale in comparison even to those of many psychopharmaceuticals. With TMS, there is no risk of personality change, appetite change, or dry mouth, just to name a few of the common complaints associated with popular medications. Because TMS therapy does not use an ingested medication, the side effects are typically limited to the therapy site, that is, the scalp. The most common TMS side effects are a mild headache and scalp sensitivity, both of which pass quickly. The headache is as easily treatable as any normal headache. Other, less frequent side effects have included neck soreness. In rare situations, people with existing seizure disorders have reported experiencing a seizure during or after TMS treatment.
All recorded TMS side effects are temporary, and most dissipate in a matter of minutes or hours after treatment is completed. There have been no known cases of any TMS long term side effects. The only lasting change patients report experiencing is the reduction or elimination of symptoms related to depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Are There Risks Associated with TMS?
While every medical decision carries some element of risk, the risks inherent in TMS therapy are extremely minimal. All serious risks are associated with specific preexisting conditions, so they are unique to each individual. For example, because TMS uses a magnetic field, it can cause injury to people who have metal in their bodies, such as aneurysm clips or coils, stents in the neck or brain, deep brain stimulators, electrodes to monitor brain activity, metallic implants in the ears or eyes, shrapnel or bullet fragments in or near the head, or facial tattoos with metallic or magnetic-sensitive ink. For the vast majority of people, however, TMS remains a safe, easy, and effective way to treat depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder that have not responded to medication or therapy. TMS treatment can help significantly diminish or eliminate symptoms and help you resume your life without the cloud of depression or anxiety hanging over your head.