What are the Side Effects of TMS Therapy?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive treatment approved for major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, particularly in patients who do not respond to first-line treatment methods (pharmacology and therapy). TMS has shown to be particularly effective for patients with treatment-resistant depression. 

Considering the treatment utilizes a device directing magnetic waves directly at a portion of a patient’s brain, some patients worry about potential side effects.

Studies Support the Safety of TMS Therapy

A multitude of clinical studies has proven that TMS and deep TMS are extremely well tolerated with few if any side effects. Furthermore, research shows that TMS treatment has no negative effect on a patient’s cognition. While TMS can potentially affect the release of serotonin, it does not share the side effects commonly experienced when using antidepressant medication. TMS side effects don’t have long-lasting repercussions. This makes it an effective alternative treatment for major depressive disorder.

Which Side Effects are Most Common in TMS Treatment?

The few side effects that have been reported tend to be transient and dissipate as the sessions continue. These adverse effects can include:

Mild to Moderate Headaches

Some patients have reported experiencing mild headaches during or shortly after TMS treatment. The headaches are reported to go away after a session, and their frequency often decreases with subsequent sessions. These are mild headaches, and as such are often treated with over-the-counter pain relief.

Note that while TMS technology is also used to treat migraines, they and headaches are two different things. However, specific TMS treatments have also been used to treat headaches. Headaches associated with TMS treatment may be caused by general physical discomfort with the placement of the coil or helmet. Both of these may be adjusted during the process for more comfort without compromising the treatment efficacy.

Discomfort Across Scalp Region

Up to a third of patients, by some estimates, report sensations on the scalp ranging from uncomfortable to mildly painful. These diminish as patients adjust to the sensation of TMS, and after certain adjustments are made following the first session. Some patients report a tapping sensation, while others report a prickling sensation.

Dizziness & Lightheadedness 

TMS and dTMS (deep transcranial magnetic stimulation) treatments have also reported rare cases of dizziness after a session. Lightheadedness may accompany the dizziness, but both symptoms resolve shortly after the session. While it’s safe for patients to drive after TMS therapy, we don’t recommend doing so for those feeling unwell after a session.

Overall, these symptoms – alongside mild headaches – are the most common, but never severe. Most of these symptoms only occur within the first few sessions, decreasing over the four to six weeks during which the treatment takes place. Very few opt to stop treatment due to the discomfort.

Hearing Issues

For patients with sensitive hearing, earplugs may be used to drown out TMS machine noise, which some may consider distressing or painful. Rather than being a side-effect of the treatment itself, this is usually an issue with the TMS machine being too loud for some patients.

Wearing earplugs is often enough to reduce discomfort by muffling the noise, thereby effectively eliminating the danger of damage to a patient’s hearing.

Timeframe of TMS Side-Effects

Side effects experienced in response to a TMS or dTMS session are generally more prominent in the first two weeks of treatment, before subsiding. It is very rare for side effects to linger throughout the 4-6 week treatment period. Very few patients will suspend treatment due to discomfort, as adverse effects are minimal and outweighed by treatment benefits.

TMS and Metal

Transcranial magnetic stimulation involves the use of magnetic fields to stimulate the brain. Therefore, patients with conductive metallic objects in or around their heads are not to be treated using TMS technology. Examples of non-removable conductive metal include:

  • Shrapnel/bullet fragments
  • Tattoos with magnetic-sensitive ink
  • Metallic implants/medical magnetic-sensitive implants
  • Non-removable electrodes
  • Neuromodulation devices (vagus nerve stimulation devices, deep brain stimulation devices)
  • Stents in the neck
  • Aneurysm clips/coils
  • Other conductive metallic objects in/around the head

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is harmless to human tissue but can cause metal objects or devices to malfunction or heat up. Some metallic devices or objects are exceptions to this because they do not react to the magnetic waves. These include braces and dental fillings. Be certain to go over your medical history with a TMS provider before opting for TMS treatment.

Achieve TMS Largest U.S. Provider of dTMS Depression Treatment

Achieve TMS East is a premier provider of deep TMS therapy in New England, with 14 convenient locations throughout the region. Our doctors and clinicians are committed to providing compassionate treatment for major depressive disorder & OCD in medication-resistant patients.

Patients will find expert staff and comfortable, pleasant offices at Achieve TMS East.

For more information about dTMS please call us today at (877) 297-5816.

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