TMS is more accessible than ever – is it right for me?

When it comes to treating depression, many people try psychiatric medications or talk therapy.

But for some people, these treatments are not effective or not enough to bring them relief. If that sounds familiar to you, it may be time to try transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). To learn more about this powerful, highly effective, non-drug treatment, we talked to Kathy Daddario, RN, BSN, a nurse and certified TMS technician who has been a part of Sheppard Pratt’s TMS program since its inception.

Sheppard Pratt began providing TMS services soon after it was FDA-approved for the treatment of major depressive disorder in 2008. We were one of the first organizations to offer TMS and have provided well over 15,000 treatments since then. Since we first started offering TMS well over a decade ago, it has been approved for more diagnoses than just depression. 

What is TMS?

Research has shown that particular areas of the brain register low neural activity and poor blood flow in people with depression. In these areas, Kathy says, “The lights are off, and no one is home.” TMS uses magnetic currents to stimulate those specific regions—to turn the lights back on. This technique seems to not only wake up the regions the magnet stimulates, but it can propel connected circuits in the brain to function more effectively. 

Why try TMS? 

For many people who try TMS, it comes at the end of a long road of medications and therapies that have failed to bring them relief. TMS is a non-invasive, non-systemic option that attempts to relieve your depression in a new way. This means that no chemicals enter your body, decreasing the likelihood of any side effects. 

TMS is covered by most commercial insurances—as well as Maryland Medicaid, as of early 2023—when appropriate criteria are met. This increased access to TMS treatment means reduced symptoms and relief for countless patients at affordable prices. 

While TMS hasn’t been around long enough for us to really know if it can be considered a permanent fix, studies have shown that fifty to sixty percent of people who try TMS experience a symptom reduction of fifty percent or more.  About a third of those people experience total remission, Kathy says.

The FDA has also approved the use of TMS for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Sheppard Pratt offers this service on an outpatient basis. Contact your insurance provider to see what coverage your plan provides. 

What is a TMS treatment like?

For a patient coming to the Institute of Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics at Sheppard Pratt for TMS treatment, each visit begins smoothly with free parking directly outside our facility. Once inside, you’ll sign in as you would for any doctor’s appointment. A nurse or TMS technician will bring you back and put you in a big, comfy chair connected to a small magnet overhead. You’ll have the option to watch tv or listen to music during your treatment. 

A coil will be placed against your scalp to deliver the precise magnetic pulses. Once the treatment begins, you’ll feel (and hear) repeating pulses that some patients describe as similar to a woodpecker tapping on your head. Intermittent streams of tapping sensations will occur over the course of your 19-minute session. Most patients receive TMS therapy five days a week for four to six weeks. The protocol may vary depending on what you are being treated for. 

There will be at least one trained clinician in the room with you at all times, though there may be several staff members ensuring you are comfortable and your treatment is administered effectively. You’ll also check in with a psychiatrist often throughout your course of TMS. “Our entire clinical team has more than a decade of experience providing TMS,” Kathy says, “and will guide you through any physical, mental, or emotional impacts of your treatment.”

There are no limitations on your day due to a TMS treatment. There is no anesthesia. You can eat, drink, or take medication before you come. You can leave a treatment and go right back to work. “One of the wonderful things about TMS is that you can go about your day normally before and after,” Kathy says. “Some people scoot in first thing in the morning, and others come by on their lunch breaks.” 

Most people tolerate TMS extremely well and experience no side effects. About ten percent of people get a headache from the tapping, or a little bit of irritation under the skin where the magnet is directed—but these symptoms tend to fade after a few treatments, Kathy says. 

If you’re interested in trying TMS, but not sure what next step to take, contact our second opinion clinic. Our experts will do a comprehensive evaluation of your needs and help transition you to the appropriate next step—and type—of care. 

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