The National Institutes of Health estimates that 17.3 million adults in the U.S. have experienced at least one major depressive episode, which consists of experiencing a depressed mood for a period of at least two weeks. Approximately 65% of those with major depressive disorder will be treated using medications, a health professional, or a combination of both. For some patients, medications do not work, but there are other treatment options. UT Health Austin is now offering Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) as an alternative treatment. UT Health Austin psychiatrist, Samuel Collier, MD, shares what TMS is and how it helps patients with major depressive disorder.
What is TMS and how does it work?
TMS is a novel FDA-approved brain stimulation technique. And what we use is an MRI-strength magnet to stimulate an area of the brain that is known to be dysfunctional in the setting of major depressive disease. We apply focused magnetic pulses to the brain area, which helps to “wake-up” those brain cells. What this does is help to improve patient’s symptoms by way of direct brain stimulation techniques that is very safe and easy to tolerate.
How often does the patient receive treatment?
TMS typically begins with five treatments per week for 4-6 weeks, for an average of 20-30 treatments. After this initial course of treatment, individual treatment sessions will taper down to three treatments per week for one week, two treatments per week for one week, etc. The amount of time each treatment session takes depends on the variation of TMS used. Learn more about the treatment process here.
Are there side effects?
The take-home point with TMS is that it is a safe and well-tolerated treatment. The most common complaint from patients is that they experience a mild headache which tends to improve with the course of treatment.
Many patients with depression take medications, and sometime those medications are not tolerated well by the patient. For instance, when a patient takes a pill, it then goes through your gastrointestinal tract and people sometimes have side effects related to that. With TMS the doctor can directly treat the brain area of interest and stimulate it. This means no body-wide side effects. It is a complementary treatment to medication therapy as well.
What is the advantage of using TMS therapy?
- TMS is a non-invasive treatment, which puts you at low to no risk for side effects
- Can help avoid hospital stays
- No anesthesia is required, so you can go home the same day
- Sessions are in-office and typically last 30 minutes
Is it covered by insurance?
Most major insurance plans will cover TMS treatment. In most cases, patients will need to get a referral or pre-authorization. As always, it’s a good idea to check with your insurance plan provider prior to making an appointment. Patients can call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) for more information.