While guided transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been proven to be effective in treating several different types of mental health disorders, we understand that this is a rather novel procedure to many people. For patients who are exploring their options for mental health treatment, the idea of using a magnetic field to stimulate the brain may seem like a radical, even frightening idea. One common misconception conflates TMS with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), but it’s important to know that these two treatments are distinct from one another in several crucial ways. Here is a brief overview of the main differences between TMS and ECT.
Electric shock therapy is a procedure in which electrodes are placed on the head and a high voltage is established through the head inducing a high electrical current through the entire brain while the patient is under general anesthesia. This electrical stimulation causes a typical generalized tonic-clonic seizure, which typically lasts around sixty seconds and is intended to “reset” the brain to alleviate mental health disorders.
Patients undergo ECT to treat severe mental health issues (the most common include depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder) which have been unresponsive to other treatment modalities.
In the immediate aftermath of an ECT session, it is common to experience headache, nausea, drowsiness, and muscle aches. Confusion and disorientation are also often associated with ECT, as well as short-term memory loss.
Many ECT patients experience memory loss immediately after the procedure, with information returning eventually over time. However, it is possible that memory loss will last for a long time. It can even be permanent, having a dramatic effect on careers or interpersonal relationships.
Other potential long-term side effects of ECT include loss of ambition and creativity. Emotional responses may feel dampened, and you might find that you are no longer interested in things that you were before. Lingering cognitive difficulties may occur, with some patients having a harder time concentrating or processing new information after treatment.
There are several key differences between the TMS, which is practiced at Neurotherapeutix, and ECT.
Unlike ECT, which applies electricity to the entire brain, our TMS uses advanced functional MRI (fMRI) technology that allows us to create a personalized treatment plan, precisely targeting dysfunctional brain circuits. Magnetic stimulation induces a highly targeted electric field in specific regions in the brain identified by sophisticated brain mapping computations. Study has found that fMRI guided TMS produces positive results in 90% of cases, while the success rate of electroconvulsive therapy is closer to 50%.
Additionally, guided TMS also does not have any of the memory loss side effects associated with ECT, and in fact has been shown to improve memory and cognition.
Finally, while ECT is performed under general anesthesia – which has a chance of causing complications of its own – TMS can be performed while you are fully awake and alert.
Guided TMS is a non-invasive procedure in which patients may experience some mild tapping sensation on their skin close to the coil for a short time during sessions. Nevertheless, there are no lasting side effects due to TMS pulses and the patients will quickly get conditioned to the stimulation. In fact, TMS is so non-invasive that beyond the first couple sessions, patients will become insensitive to the stimulation and often engage in watching TV or in conversations with the individuals giving the treatment.