Learning About Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

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What is TMS?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a treatment that sends quick magnetic pulses into an area of the brain. It's used to treat certain health conditions. These include depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety disorders. Experts don't know exactly how TMS helps relieve symptoms. But it seems to work by changing brain activity.

How is it done?

You will be in a doctor's office or hospital for the treatment. You'll be awake and will sit in a chair. The TMS device makes loud clicking sounds, so you will get earplugs to protect your hearing.

Your doctor will place the device against your head. You will get a few test pulses, and your doctor will adjust the device until your thumb twitches. This is how your doctor finds the right level for you.

You may feel some discomfort or muscle twitching during the treatment. You may feel this less as you have more treatments. If it's too strong, your doctor can turn down the level.

You'll be closely watched for any problems during the treatment. It will last about half an hour.

Why is it done?

TMS is a treatment option if you don't get better with medicines. It also may be done if you get side effects from medicines. Or it can be used along with medicines and other treatments, like counseling.

What can you expect after TMS?

You can drive and go back to your usual activities. You may have a headache, and your scalp may hurt. Some hearing loss is also possible. These problems usually don't last long.

How well does it work?

TMS is often a helpful short-term treatment for depression and OCD. It also may help with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And it may help with chronic pain. It sometimes helps with migraine headaches.

You may need several treatments before your symptoms start to get better. Most people need daily treatments for several weeks to get the full benefit of TMS.

If your first course of treatments helps with your symptoms, your doctor may recommend more daily treatments. Or you may be able to switch to other treatments that you get less often.

What are the risks?

Some people faint during this procedure. There is also a small risk of seizure with TMS, but this is rare.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.