Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation – Preparation, Duration, Procedure, Risks, Side Effects, Complications, Results

Using magnetic fields for stimulating the nerve cells in brain can lead to the improvement in symptoms of depression. This procedure is called as Transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a relatively new procedure that is recommended in patients who do not respond to other standard treatments such as medications and psychotherapy.

Although the exact role played by transcranial magnetic stimulation in relieving depression is not clear, the magnetic pulses stimulate the nerve cells in brain and thereby improve the depression symptoms in patients.

Preparation for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is performed as an outpatient procedure in doctor’s office. There is no elaborative preparation needed as it is non-invasive procedure that doesn’t require anaesthesia.

  • Your psychiatrist will perform complete physical examination before surgery to ensure that it is a safe for you.
  • You may be asked to conduct blood tests or other laboratory tests to ascertain that you are medically fit for the procedure
  • You should inform your doctor regarding any medications you are taking as you may be asked to stop or adjust the doses of certain medications before the surgery
  • You should inform your doctor if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant.
  • You should inform your doctor if there are any implanted metallic devices in your body because Transcranial magnetic stimulation is not recommended in such cases.
  • You should also inform the doctor of any previous surgeries or associated health conditions.

Duration of Transcranial magnetic stimulation

Patient needs a series of treatment sessions for optimal results. The procedure is usually performed daily at least five times a week for 5 to 6 weeks.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation procedure

Before the procedure, the psychiatrist identifies the most suitable region for placing the magnets on your head. Moreover, psychiatrist also decides about the optimal dose of magnetic energy for the treatment.

  • You may be asked to sit comfortably in a reclining chair and wear earplugs during the treatment.
  • Psychiatrist places an electromagnetic coil against your head. He/she switches the electromagnetic coil off and on repeatedly couple of times for producing stimulating pulses.  It causes a tapping sound that lasts only for few seconds followed by pause.
  • Doctor will determine the appropriate dosage of magnetic energy required and increases the magnetic dose until your fingers or hands begin to twitch.
  • Depending on your symptoms and side effects, the amount of stimulation is changed during the procedure.
  • After the placement and dose of electromagnetic coil are determined, your treatment begins and it lasts for about 40 minutes.

Risks of Transcranial magnetic stimulation

The Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a relatively safe procedure and causes mild side effects.

Most of these side effects are short term in nature and usually improve after the first week or two of treatment.

Common Side Effects

  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Spasms or twitching of facial muscles
  • Scalp discomfort at the site of stimulation
  • Tingling

Complications

In some rare cases, the procedure may lead to certain serious side effects.

  • Seizures
  • Mania in patients with bipolar disorder
  • Hearing loss due to inadequate ear protection

Results of Transcranial magnetic stimulation

  • In majority of the cases, depression symptoms will improve or diminish completely.
  • The optimal results are obtained after several weeks of treatment
  • Patient should continue to take antidepressant medication or attend psychotherapy sessions even after transcranial magnetic stimulation.
  • The effectiveness of transcranial magnetic stimulation may improve once the optimal sites for stimulation and numbers of stimulations needed are identified.