While I don’t usually discuss specific disabilities in detail, I feel it’s important to cover my recent experience here, especially since rTMS is a lesser-known treatment. I am just one person, so I can’t say that it’ll work for everyone, but I hope this anecdotal experience proves helpful.
What is rTMS?
rTMS, also called TMS, is repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively recent, evidence-based treatment for depression and other conditions. My treatment involved a chair much like a dentist’s, which held my head in place while a magnetic coil laid against it. The machine sends magnetic waves to a specific area of the brain. No anesthetic or other medicine is required for treatment.
Important note: rTMS is not the same thing as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). While ECT can be a very helpful treatment for mental illness despite its stigmatization and frightening reputation, it is a much more involved process than rTMS, involving anesthesia and several medical professionals. ECT also uses a very small amount of electricity, rather than the magnetic waves used in rTMS.
What does rTMS treat?
So far, the most commonly studied use of rTMS is for depression, and the evidence clearly supports its effectiveness for this use case.
There are many other potential uses that are being studied, including OCD, anxiety, PTSD, stroke rehabilitation, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, chronic pain, nicotine addiction, and multiple sclerosis. This article provides links to start your research. This review of research (article is freely available) discusses rTMS for several different types of chronic pain.
What are the risks and contraindications?
There are very few serious side effects of rTMS. The main one is seizures, but this is extremely rare. If a patient has implanted metal, especially in the head area, the treatment may not be safe for them. It may cause temporary headaches, which usually go away when the treatment session ends.
What are the practicalities?
In the US where I am, insurance companies tend to not cover it unless the patient has already tried antidepressants and therapy. The fee would have been a few thousand dollars without insurance, but I had only a few hundred dollars in copays.
The treatment was every day, Monday through Friday, for six weeks. Each session lasted about 45 minutes. I was able to drive myself to and from treatment.
What is it like?
The feeling was odd but not uncomfortable, almost like tapping on the side of my head. I quickly became accustomed to it. I wore disposable earplugs, and there was a disposable adhesive strip that helped hold my head in the right place.
What were the results?
About halfway through the treatment, I started seeing definite improvements in my mood. After completing the treatment course, I have a much better baseline mood and much more energy. I had tried several antidepressants before and had cognitive behavioral therapy, all of which helped, but I still had significant depressive symptoms. I wouldn’t say I’m cured, but I’m able to do much more and enjoy things I haven’t been able to for a long time.
There is a possibility that I might relapse, but since rTMS has already worked for me it’s very likely that it would work again.
rTMS can be extremely helpful for depression, and shows promise for many other conditions. The side effects are minimal, especially compared to antidepressants. For me, it was more than worth it, and I hope it may prove helpful to readers as well.