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Risks and Benefits of TMS

One of the major questions surrounding TMS deals with the pros and cons of treatment. In terms of treatment, pros and cons are more commonly recognized as risks and benefits. With TMS – as with any treatment – there are inherent risks and benefits. In general, the decision to move forward with any treatment depends on a calculation of benefits minus risks. This math can also be applied when considering TMS.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), like any other medical procedure, has its risks and benefits. Still, it is hard to argue that the benefits of TMS do not outweigh the risks, especially if you’ve been on multiple antidepressant medications with unsatisfactory results. To begin, we’ll discuss some of the risks, which to an extent, can also be considered side effects. Though highly unlikely, the most deleterious risk is the possibility of a seizure during treatment. If you have a history of epilepsy or have had seizures in the past, be sure to discuss this with your doctor before considering TMS, as it may increase your risk of having a seizure. However, in general, the chance of having a seizure during TMS is extremely low (0.003% or 1 in 30,000)*. Other minor risks include scalp discomfort, mild-moderate headaches, and facial twitches during treatment, all of which generally subside shortly after each session.

As for benefits, TMS can significantly improve symptoms of treatment-resistant depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, especially for patients who have not seen improvement via medication or therapy. Most patients report long-lasting symptom improvement during the 6 – 8 week treatment program and general mood improvements that can last months and even years. In addition, some patients may receive “maintenance” TMS treatments, where they may come in once a month or once every 2-3 months to maintain their gains from treatment.

If you missed our introduction to TMS a couple of weeks ago, check it out here!

*Carpenter LL, Janicak PG, Aaronson ST, et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for major depression: a multisite, naturalistic, observational study of acute treatment outcomes in clinical practice. Depress Anxiety. 2012; 29(7):587–596. DOI: 10.102/da.21969 [PubMed: 22689344]

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