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How Does TMS Compare with Medication Treatment?


Choosing TMS or antidepressant medication for a patient

 

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and antidepressant medication are both treatment options for depression that work in different ways. Antidepressant medication restores emotional balance to the chemicals in the brain, while transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses non-invasive magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain’s mood center.

Studies have found similar success rates with TMS and antidepressant medication. In a 2012 study on TMS, about 37% of people no longer experienced symptoms of depression after treatment.¹ Similarly, a 2008 study of patients taking antidepressant medication found that 33% patients no longer had depressive symptoms.²

The TMS treatment course is shorter than the treatment course for antidepressants. Ongoing treatment with antidepressant medication is necessary for many patients. On the other hand, TMS treatment is completed in under two months, yet shows lasting results. In a study that looked at patients’ progress one year after receiving TMS, 65.8% of patients who were free of symptoms after treatment continued to feel better, with 50% continuing to experience no symptoms at all.³

TMS has fewer side effects than medication. The main difference between TMS and antidepressant medication is the side effects. Common side effects of each treatment include:

 

Side Effects of TMS

Side Effects of Antidepressant Medication⁴,⁵

    • Headache

 

  • Scalp discomfort in the first week of treatment
    • Weight gain

 

    • Sexual dysfunction

 

    • Nausea

 

    • Dry mouth

 

  • Sedation

 

The side effects of antidepressant medication can be difficult to manage, especially when they are ongoing. TMS, on the other hand, has none of the ongoing side effects of medication treatment. Headache and scalp discomfort may be experienced only briefly by some patients. TMS is associated with a rare risk of seizure but the likelihood of experiencing a seizure is low, with only 1 seizure recorded per 30,000 treatments.⁶ Overall, the side effects of TMS are minor and short in duration.

The choice of TMS versus medication will depend on each patient’s needs, medical history, and doctor’s treatment recommendation. If you are interested in finding out if TMS is a good treatment option for you, take our quiz.

References

    1. Carpenter LL, Janicak PG, Aaronson ST, et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for major depression: A multisite, naturalistic, observational study of acute treatment outcomes in clinical practice. Depress Anxiety. 2012;29(7):587-96. Click Here. Accessed March 15, 2018.

 

    1. Gaynes BM, Rush AJ, Madhukar HT, Wisniewski SR, Spencer D, Maurizio F. The STAR*D study: Treating depression in the real world. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. 2008;75(1):57-66. Click Here. Accessed March 22, 2018.

 

    1. Dunner, DL, Aaronson ST, Sackeim, HA, et al. A multisite, naturalistic, observational study of transcranial magnetic stimulation for patients with pharmacoresistant major depressive disorder: Durability of benefit over a 1-year follow-up period. J Clin Psychiatry. 2014;75(12):1394-401. Click Here. Accessed March 15, 2018.

 

    1. Allen, Arthur. Coping with side effects of depression treatment. Webmd.com. Click Here. Accessed March 22, 2018.

 

    1. Depression: How effective are antidepressants? Informedhealth.org. Click Here. Updated January 12, 2017. Accessed March 22, 2018.

 

  1. Perera T, George MS, Grammer G, Janicak PG,Pascual-Leone A, Wierckig TS. The Clinical TMS Society Consensus Review and Treatment Recommendations for TMS Therapy for Major Depressive Disorder. Brain Stimul. 2016; 9(3): 336–346. Click Here. Published March 16, 2016.
Dr. Woo has been seeing patients in private practice since 2002, always with the goals of combining evidence-based medicine with psychodynamic psychotherapy and collaborating with other mental health professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for his patients. He has been certified to administer TMS at his practice since 2017. His greatest clinical interests include helping patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.