TMS vs. ECT Therapy for Depression Treatment

TMS Effective and Safer than ECT Therapy in Treating Depression

ECT therapy was once known as electric shock therapy (ETC).  It is the oldest form of psychiatric therapy, having first been utilized in 1938 in Italy to treat various forms of mental illness.  Used to treat serious mental health disorders, ECT therapy involves sedating the patient and then intentionally causing a seizure by using electrical currents transmitted into the brain.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a relatively modern treatment, having been introduced in 1985 in England.  TMS is approved by the FDA to treat drug-resistant depression by administering magnetic pulses through the scalp of the patient targeting a specific region in the brain that is associated with mood regulation.

Both of these brain stimulation techniques have been proven to be effective in treating major depressive disorder (MDD) when medications have failed to alleviate symptoms. By causing changes to the brain’s neurotransmitter levels and receptors, these brain stimulation therapies can rebalance the malfunctioning brain chemistry that had contributed to the depressed state.

How is ECT Administered?

Because ECT therapy will cause a patient to experience a seizure, it is mandatory that they be sedated, in addition to taking prescribed muscle relaxants, before the procedure.  This protocol is required in order to keep the patient comfortable during the procedure and to reduce the risk of injury caused by involuntary movements during the controlled seizure.

Heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and brain waves are all monitored as a precaution.  An IV line is inserted through which the medications or fluids can be given.  Sometimes an oxygen mask is worn during the procedure, and a mouth guard may be used to protect the teeth and tongue from injury.

ECT uses very high electrical current levels (800 milliamps) administered through electrode pads that are placed on one or both sides of the head.  Specific adjustments to the therapy, such as the placement of the electrodes, as well as the dose and duration of the treatment, are determined on an individual basis.  Each session lasts about ten minutes, and typically 6-12 sessions are prescribed.

How is TMS Administered?

TMS therapy is provided in an outpatient setting while the patient is fully alert.  He or she will be seated in a comfortable chair and fitted with a helmet.  Inside the helmet is an embedded H-coil, through which the magnetic induction is delivered through the patient’s scalp.  No medication or sedation is required during the treatment.

TMS uses technology that is similar to the magnetic power of an MRI machine.  The magnetic field generator produces short pulses to the scalp that target the prefrontal cortex, where the resulting electrical currents will stimulate the neurotransmitters and reset brain chemistry.  The patient feels a repetitive tapping sensation on the area of the scalp where the pulses are delivered.  TMS sessions last about 20 minutes, and typically 20-30 sessions are prescribed.

Why TMS is Optimal Choice over ECT

There are significant differences with regard to the risk profile of these brain stimulation techniques.  It is important to consider the risks carefully before deciding which technique would be best suited for you.

ECT therapy has far more risks and side effects associated with it. ECT must be administered under general anesthesia so the patient cannot have any food or beverages after midnight. However, if the patient does not strictly adhere to these orders serious and sometimes fatal results can occur, such as aspiration pneumonia.  The side effects from ECT treatments include confusion, memory loss, nausea, jaw pain, muscle ache, and muscle spasms, yet most of these will subside over time.

TMS, on the other hand, does not require any form of anesthesia, which eliminates many of the risks that commonly accompany ECT.  The patient is able to drive themselves to and from the treatment sessions, and can resume normal daily activities immediately.  Side effects from TMS treatments are minimal and include mild headache and irritation of the scalp where the pulses were administered.  These, too, will subside over the course of treatment.

Achieve TMS East Treats Major Depression

Anyone suffering from the debilitating effects of major depressive disorder knows how disheartening it is to find no relief from antidepressants.  Not only do 50% of patients experience no improvement in mood while on these medications, many will suffer uncomfortable side effects from the drugs, such as nausea, weight gain, fatigue, sexual dysfunction, and irritability.

Achieve TMS East is a premier provider of TMS in Massachusetts for treating medication-resistant depression.  Achieve TMS East provides FDA cleared Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) treating individuals with stubborn depression—relieving their suffering and providing them with a bright new outlook on life.  For more information on TMS treatment, call us today at (855) 914-2743.


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