Electroshock Therapy v. fMRI Guided TMS

Electroshock Therapy v. fMRI Guided TMS

Guided transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has proven to be effective in treating several diverse types of mental health disorders. We understand that this is a novel procedure for patients exploring their options for mental health treatment. The idea of using a magnetic field to stimulate the brain may seem radical, or even frightening. One common misconception conflates TMS with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Commonly known as Electroshock Therapy.

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 “Electroshock Therapy”.

What is electroconvulsive therapy or 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.

What does ECT treat?

Patients undergo ECT to treat severe mental health issues which have been unresponsive to other treatment modalities. The most common include: depression schizophrenia bipolar disorder

What are the short-term side effects of ECT?

In the immediate aftermath of an ECT session, it is common to experience headaches, nausea, drowsiness, and muscle aches. Confusion and disorientation are also often associated with ECT, as well as short-term memory loss.

What are the long-term side effects of ECT?

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 added information after treatment.

Why is fMRI guided TMS treatment much safer than ECT?

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.

Are there any side effects to fMRI guided TMS?

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 brief 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.


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