“TMS ruined my life” was posted recently on a social media platform

You may have been taken aback recently when you read the words “TMS ruined my life” on a recent facebook post. If you are someone who is researching Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) this claim may have caught your attention. You may be considering TMS treatment and “TMS ruined my life” would certainly cause concern. So why would people make such remarks about TMS, given a great many people are benefiting from the technology. This post explores some of the reasons why this claim “TMS ruined my life” might have been made.

In Australia, TMS has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for treatment resistant depression. TMS has been recognised for its safety, efficacy and the FDA’s approval in the US in 2008 (1,2). Since late 2021, Medicare has offered rebates for TMS, just like Medicare provides rebates for specialist consultations. This indicates both its safety and efficacy (3).

Despite the TGA approval and medicare support of TMS, there remains some sparse reports of negative experiences from TMS. Let’s take a look at why this might be.

1: Exacerbation or Deterioration

Clients undergoing TMS may see their mental health worsen, especially if it was already trending downhill. A decline in a client’s mental health during a course of TMS doesn’t necessarily imply that TMS is the cause. There is currently no evidence that TMS directly causes a decline in someone’s mental health. It’s more likely that if someones mental health continues to worsen during TMS that TMS wasn’t able to halt or reverse this decline (4).

2: Side Effects

While TMS is generally considered safe and well-tolerated, clients may experience side effects like headaches, scalp discomfort and fatigue. The only known severe but rare risk is a 1 in 30,000 chance of a seizure during the treatment. A risk of seizure is heightened by conditions like uncontrolled epilepsy, drug use, or certain brain implants, making TMS unsuitable for some. Note that in our practice, we have not seen anyone have a seizure. It may be that someone perceives the side effects to be extremely severe, and outweigh the potential benefits, leading to dissatisfaction with TMS treatment (5)

It should also be mentioned here, that at Sydney TMS our first appointment is a consultation with our TMS psychiatrist. During the consultation any conditions that may cause concern or risk of a seizure are thoroughly investigated. Only patients who are suitable for TMS are offered to continue on with TMS treatment. Not all patients are suitable for the treatment and these face to face consultations with our highly qualified and experienced psychiatrists are extremely important. This appointment is also bulk billed if you have an Australian medicare card.

To read more about the side effects that are associated with TMS please visit our page by clicking here >> TMS side effects

3: Unmet Expectations

Many people seek TMS as a perceived last resort after other treatments have not proved efficacious. With treatment resistant depression, it is understandable that hope for TMS to ease someone’s suffering may be high. If TMS falls short of this expectation, it could result in disappointment. Investing hope, time and finances without much of an improvement in someone’s mental health would understandably lead to someone feeling negatively impacted by TMS. This is why it is important to approach TMS with a realistic understanding of what to expect, and to understand it is not a miracle cure (6).

Claims like “TMS ruined my life” and “TMS gave me brain damage” are in no way supported by the extensive literature and research. The current scientific literature, clinical trials and even longer term studies do not show any evidence of lasting cognitive impacts or brain damage from TMS when conducted safely by licensed health practitioners (7).

In conclusion, it is important to take into account the experiences of those who feel negatively impacted by TMS, as it helps us to improve how TMS is delivered in the future. While TMS has been life changing for many people, and the literature generally shows most people with treatment resistant depression respond to TMS in some manner, it is important to understand where these negative reports may be coming from. Furthermore, it’s important to always question what is shared on social media.

References:

  1. Therapeutic Goods Administration. neuroCare Group Pty Ltd – PowerMAG magnetic stimulators and accessories, Apollo TMS therapy system – Transcranial magnetic stimulation system, mobile (385930) [Internet]. TGA. 2022. Available from: https://www.tga.gov.au/resources/artg/385930

  2. Yan J. FDA Approves New Option to Treat Major Depression. Psychiatric News. 2008 Nov 21;43(22):2–17.

  3. Medicare Benefits Schedule. Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy on the MBS [Internet]. Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy on the MBS. 2021. Available from: https://www.mbsonline.gov.au/internet/mbsonline/publishing.nsf/Content/Factsheet-rTMS+

  4. TMS FAQ [Internet]. Department of Psychiatry. 2020. Available from: https://www.med.unc.edu/psych/patient-care/interventional-psychiatry/tms/tms-faq/

  5. Transcranial magnetic stimulation [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2023. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/transcranial-magnetic-stimulation/about/pac-20384625

  6. Scheper A, Rosenfeld C, Dubljević V. The public impact of academic and print media portrayals of TMS: shining a spotlight on discrepancies in the literature. BMC Medical Ethics. 2022 Mar 13;23(1).

  7. Taylor R, Galvez V, Loo C. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) safety: a practical guide for psychiatrists. Australasian Psychiatry. 2018 Jan 17;26(2):189–92.