About Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS is an easy, non-invasive procedure designed to help those who have not benefited from prior antidepressant treatment. TMS Therapy uses pulsed magnetic fields to stimulate function in targeted brain regions; those that control depression, mood, and anxiety.

TMS therapy:

  • Does not require any anesthesia or sedation, as the patient remains awake and alert during the treatment.
  • Is non-systemic, meaning that it is not taken by mouth and does not circulate in the bloodstream throughout the body
  • Patients resume usual activities after treatment with no after effects

How Does TMS Work?

Through a magnetic coil, the TMS Therapy system generates highly concentrated, magnetic fields which turn on and off very rapidly. These magnetic fields are the same type and strength as those produced by a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

The treatment coil is applied to the head above the left prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is involved with mood regulation, and therefore is the location where the magnetic fields are focused. These magnetic fields do not directly affect the whole brain; they only reach about 2-3 centimeters into the brain directly beneath the treatment coil. As these magnetic fields move into the brain, they produce very small electrical currents. These electrical currents activate cells within the brain which are thought to release neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Since depression is thought to be the result of an imbalance of these chemicals in the brain, TMS can restore that balance and, thus, relieve depression.

TMS Safety

Generally, TMS is safe for use in patients who have shown little to no improvement through the use of antidepressants, but the procedure should not be used if a patient has any metal implants in or near their head. Similarly, if the patient has any electronic devices in their head or body, TMS treatment would not be a viable option.

In clinical trials,  no systemic side effects were observed: out of 233 patients, there were no signs of lasting effects in 3 months of use. While longer term effects are not yet known, similar scans (such as MRI) have not shown negative long term effects.

In 25% to 29% of patients, application site pain was observed, and headaches were reported in 47% of cases. Your treatment administrator should be informed if you experience any of these effects. Studies have not been performed on various demographics, such as those who are pregnant and nursing, have neurological disorders, or are below 22 or over 68.

Other possible side effects include anxiety, twitching, back pain, and insomnia. Depression may increase temporarily before it improves.

TMS Effectiveness

TMS is an FDA-approved alternative treatment method for cases in which antidepressants have failed to bring about lasting or meaningful change to the patient’s quality of life.  Not only is TMS therapy easy and noninvasive, but it is also proven to be effective, based on over 60 clinical trials.

Is TMS Right for You?

Take the below survey and submit it to us to find out. Within two business days, we will be in contact with you to discuss whether TMS is right for you.

TMS Survey


Is TMS therapy covered by my insurance?

It usually takes time for healthcare insurers to establish coverage policies for newly approved treatments such as TMS. However, many commercial and Medicare plans have recognized the effectiveness of treating depression with TMS Therapy and now cover TMS as part of their plans. Carolina Partners is now able to accept Medicare, BCBS, United Healthcare, Cigna, Aetna, and Tricare for TMS treatment.

Is TMS Therapy a good alternative for patients who cannot tolerate the side effects associated with antidepressant medications?

TMS is non-systemic (does not circulate in the blood throughout the body), so it does not have side effects such as weight gain, sexual dysfunction, nausea, dry mouth, sedation, etc. The most common side effects reported during clinical trials were headache and scalp discomfort – generally mild to moderate – occurring less frequently after the first week of treatment.

Is TMS Therapy like other alternative therapies which use magnets to treat some illnesses?

No. TMS Therapy involves a unique method of using pulsed magnetic fields for therapeutic benefit. The intensity of the magnetic field is similar to that of the magnetic fields used in magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. These techniques differ radically from the popular use of low intensity, static magnetic fields. These products deliver weak and undirected static fields that are not capable of activating brain cells.

Is TMS Therapy like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)?

No, the two procedures are very different. While both are effective in the treatment of depression, there are many differences in safety and tolerability.

During TMS Therapy, patients sit in a chair and are awake and alert throughout the entire 37-minute procedure – no sedation is used with TMS Therapy. Patients can transport themselves to and from treatment.

In over 10,000 active treatments with the NeuroStar TMS Therapy system in clinical trials, no seizures were observed. TMS Therapy was also shown to have no negative effects on memory function in these studies.

In contrast, “shock therapy,” or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), intentionally causes a seizure. Patients receiving ECT must be sedated with general anesthesia and paralyzed with muscle relaxants. Recovery from an ECT treatment session occurs slowly, and patients are usually closely monitored for minutes or a even few hours after a treatment.

Short-term confusion and memory loss are common with ECT, and long-term disruptions in memory have been shown to occur and may persist indefinitely in some people. Because of the side effects associated with ECT, a significant amount of caregiver support is required.

What is a typical course of treatment with TMS Therapy?

A typical course of TMS Therapy is 5 times per week for 20-minutes over a 4 to 6 week treatment course. After each session, patients can return home independently, and follow through their normal daily routine.

Any additional treatments are based on clinical judgment.

What are the potential side effects or risks of TMS Therapy?

TMS treatment has been proven safe and effective, and has no known systemic effects (effects deriving from medication entering the bloodstream and circulating throughout the body). The most common side effects are headaches and local discomfort, both usually temporary and mild. Other side effects may include muscle twitching and jaw pain.

Can TMS Therapy cause brain tumors?

No, TMS Therapy uses the same type and strength of magnetic fields as MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), which have been used in tens of millions of patients around the world and have not been shown to cause tumors. The magnetic energy used in a full course of TMS Therapy is a small fraction of just one brain scan with an MRI.

Does TMS Therapy cause memory loss?

No, the TMS Therapy system was systematically evaluated for its effects on memory. Clinical trials demonstrated that TMS Therapy does not result in any negative effects on memory or concentration.

Is TMS Therapy uncomfortable?

No, the most common side effect related to treatment was scalp discomfort during treatment sessions. This side effect was generally mild to moderate, and occurred less frequently after the first week of treatment.

If necessary, you can treat this discomfort with an over-the-counter analgesic. If these side effects persist, your doctor can temporarily reduce the strength of the magnetic field pulses being administered in order to make treatment more comfortable.

Less than 5% of patients treated with NeuroStar TMS Therapy discontinued treatment due to side effects.

Can I also take antidepressant(s) if I am receiving TMS Therapy?

Yes. In clinical trials, TMS Therapy was safely administered with and without other antidepressant medications.