What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

colourful umbrella amongst black umbrellas

Used to treat long term depression

TMS is otherwise known as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. It is also referred to as rTMS or repeated Trasncranial Magnetic Stimulation. It is used to treat long term depression. It is a particularly useful treatment for those people who have tried a range of methods but their symptoms have not improved.

How does TMS work?

As the name suggests, it uses magnetic fields to stimulate the underlying brain. The great thing about TMS is that it can assist the brain without the need for any medications or surgery. Treatment occurs in a regular medical office suite and there is no need for lengthy hospital stays. It is as easy as having the person sit back and relax in a large reclining arm chair. A magnetic coil rests on the person’s scalp near the front part of the skull. The person is fully awake during the treatment session and the machine does all the work.  We don’t even have to shave your hair! The typical treatment session lasts approximately for forty minutes. After the session the person can carry on with their day as usual.

How long has TMS been around?

TMS was originally designed and used in medical research to study the brain and its functioning. It has been used in research for over thirty years. About ten years ago doctors realised that TMS was not only useful in studying the brain but could also be used to change brain functioning. In the decade that followed, doctors and scientists have been looking into many brain conditions that could be helped by TMS including; chronic pain, stroke, and a range of psychiatric conditions. It is still unclear exactly how it helps depression but there is a mass of research providing strong evidence that it does help.

Long lasting effects on the brain

A technique called “repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulations” ( rTMS ) which applied repeated stimulation to the brain has been shown to have long lasting effects on the brain that lasted after the treatment is finished. This means that after a coarse of treatment, the benefit would last for several months or longer. Exactly how long the effect will last varies from person to person.

In 2008, rTMS was approved for the treatment of depression in the United States and has been gaining popularity in that country and more recently also in Europe for the treatment of depression. Over this time it has also been used in a very limited way in Australia, but this has been mostly in university research clinics and a small number of private hospital. Sydney TMS is one of the first in the country to offer this treatment to outpatients suffering Major Depression.