During a TMS procedure, a clinician applies an electromagnetic coil to the patient’s forehead. The coil administers electromagnetic pulses that stimulate nerve cells in the brain. The coil is applied near an area of the brain that controls mood regulation. The magnetic field produced by the procedure is roughly the same strength as an MRI scan.
A TMS session is usually administered by a doctor or nurse but does not require anesthesia. It lasts anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. You will feel a slight tapping on their forehead from the pulses during the procedure. Then a tapping sound for a few seconds followed by a pause. In order to determine the right magnetic dosage, the clinician increases the energy level until the patient’s hands or fingers begin to twitch. If side effects are detected, adjustments to the amount of stimulation can be made during the procedure. When the pulses are given rapidly and in succession, the treatment is called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS. TMS therapy involves a series of treatment sessions; a typical course of TMS is 4 to 6 weeks. There is also a type of TMS called deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS), which can stimulate deeper into the brain and cover a larger area.
Treatment sessions vary in length depending on the TMS coil used and the number of pulses delivered but typically last around 30 to 40 minutes. Patients receive TMS 5 days a week. However, this can vary depending on an individual’s response to treatment.
Scientists still debate about the best position to place the electromagnetic coil on the head, the best frequency and intensity for the pulses, and whether the procedure is more effective when delivered as a single treatment or with booster sessions. There is also an ongoing debate about whether patients benefit most when they receive TMS alone or in conjunction with medication and psychotherapy.