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Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: Does it help in Combating Depression?

Approximately two-thirds of those who suffer from depression do not receive adequate relief, even from first-line therapies such as psychotherapy and pharmaceuticals. According to studies, depression is the primary cause of disability among Americans aged 15 to 44. Many people continue to experience symptoms even after taking several different drugs. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) has long been the treatment of choice for cases that do not respond to other forms of therapy, despite the fact that some people find it difficult to tolerate due to its negative effects on memory and cognition. A relatively new therapeutic option for those individuals, as well as many others, who have not responded effectively to medicine and therapy alone, is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS).


What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?


TMS therapy, also referred to as transcranial magnetic stimulation, is a non-invasive brain stimulation method. TMS works externally by delivering strong magnetic fields to particular brain areas linked to depression, as compared to drugs or ECT, which entail surgery or electric shocks. Most individuals find it considerably easier to endure than other treatments. Headaches during and after the treatment are the most common side effects of this therapy.


Does TMS work?


Between 50 and 60 percent of depressed people who have tried and failed to find relief from medicine in the past reportedly experienced notable improvement with TMS. In around one-third of them, the condition is characterized as full remission when all symptoms totally disappear. It's important to realize that these advantageous outcomes are transient. Like other mood disorder therapies, depression may recur after a while. However, even after the course of treatment, many TMS patients report feeling better for several months at a time; the average length of improvement is a little over a year. Some may choose to undergo additional rounds of TMS therapy if needed.


What happens during TMS Therapy?


TMS therapy is a comprehensive treatment approach that needs to be administered for several weeks. Depending on the tool and clinical protocol being used, each session could go anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes. Following a quick check-in with a technician or physician, patients can start the stimulation procedure. The motor cortex is a "landmark" in the brain that the technician will use to establish the optimal stimulation intensity and anatomical target. By focusing on this area of the brain initially, the team can ascertain the optimal location for the stimulation coil in relation to that person's brain as well as the necessary "fire" intensity to produce sufficient stimulation.


Next, calculations are used to analyze this data and pinpoint the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a key brain area linked to depression and supported by strong clinical evidence. While a single session can alter the brain's excitability, noticeable relief typically kicks in around the third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth week of treatment.


What happens after the TMS Therapy?


Following a TMS treatment for depression series, standard care, including medication and talk therapy, might be suggested as a continued treatment by the physician.

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