Depression affects us all: over our lifetimes, an estimated 20-25% of the adult population will suffer from a major depressive episode. Even those who won’t deal with depression personally will be likely to know someone who does. The signs of depression include symptoms such as fatigue, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, inability to concentrate on everyday tasks, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, and recurring thoughts of suicide. Those who experience these symptoms over a prolonged period of time should seek medical attention.
While life events can contribute to depressive disorders, depression is, first and foremost, a chemical imbalance in the brain, which can make it difficult to control and treat. For many adults with depression, the condition can be managed with various therapy, medicinal, and natural treatments. However, some adults experience treatment resistant depression, in which the patient doesn’t respond to medications or therapies. For patients with treatment resistant depression, there is an alternative: transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (or TMS) is a treatment recently approved by the FDA to help individuals with clinical depression. TMS therapy uses a device that places a coil on the patient’s scalp, which then generates a magnetic field to stimulate targeted neurons in the brain. This treatment is safe and effective; it is performed as an outpatient procedure in a physician’s office. Typical treatments of TMS therapy for depression are about 40 minutes each every day for four to six weeks.
How does TMS therapy work? The physician applies the coil device gently to the patient’s head above his or her left prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that deals with mood regulation. The magnetic fields only reach about two or three centimeters into the brain beneath the coil, so patients don’t have to worry about this treatment affecting the whole brain. The magnetic fields produce very small electrical currents that activate cells within the brain which are thought to release neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are what treat depression within the brain.
TMS therapy was tested and found safe in clinical trials involving 10,000 treatments. Fewer than five percent of patients discontinued this treatment due to adverse events. The most commons side effect experienced by clinical trial patients was scalp discomfort at the administration site. Unlike many antidepressants, TMS therapy does not cause side effects such as weight gain, sedation, or sexual dysfunction. Where treatments such as Electroconvulsive Therapy cause memory impairment, this side effect does not present in TMS therapy treatments.
If you suffer from treatment resistant depression, and therapy and medication haven’t worked in treating your chronic depression in the past, you have other option that can help. Be sure to visit with your doctor to find out if transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy is right for you. Remember, depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, and getting your brain the treatment it needs will relieve the rest of your body from the symptoms of chronic depression.