TMS for OCD: How does it Work?

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TMS therapy was originally used to treat people whose lives had been disrupted by symptoms of major depressive disorder. In the years since this technique was originally approved for use in the U.S., it has proved to be effective at addressing other mental health concerns, including OCD. Learn how and why using TMS for OCD is a great choice.

Understanding TMS

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a noninvasive technique that uses brief, repeating electromagnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in certain areas of the brain. Modern research into TMS therapy began in the 1980s, though the principles upon which it is based date to the 1800s.

TMS therapy first earned approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2008. 

  • This initial approval authorized healthcare providers to use TMS therapy to treat people who have major depressive disorder (MDD). 
  • The FDA expanded its approval in 2013, allowing TMS therapy to be incorporated into treatment for people who suffered from migraines. 
  • In 2018, the FDA added obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to the list of approved uses.
  • TMS therapy received FDA approval for use in smoking cessation treatment in 2020.

Researchers are continuing to explore other potential uses for TMS therapy, such as using the technique to help people who have epilepsy.

During a TMS session, the patient will sit or recline in a comfortable chair. The professional who is providing the service will place a device containing a small electromagnetic coil on the patient’s scalp, often on or near their forehead.

Once the coil has been placed, the TMS therapist will activate the device. When activated, the coil will emit brief electromagnetic pulses. Depending on which type of TMS therapy the patient is receiving, these pulses may be delivered once at a time (single-pulse TMS), twice simultaneously (paired pulse TMS), or in a series of rapid bursts (repetitive TMS, or rTMS). 

The electromagnetic pulses travel through the patient’s skull and reach a few centimeters into their brain. In the brain, they stimulate axons, which are parts of nerve cells that carry impulses away from the cells. This stimulation can promote greater neural activity and increased production of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters.

A typical TMS therapy session lasts about half an hour. Patients usually receive treatment five days per week for about five weeks.

Is TMS Effective for Treating OCD?

As indicated by the FDA’s approval of TMS for OCD, considerable research indicates that it can be an effective form of treatment for people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

The form of TMS therapy that seems to be most beneficial for OCD patients is called deep TMS, or dTMS. A dTMS device can deliver electromagnetic pulses farther into the brain than standard TMS devices are capable of reaching.

The International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) has reported that 45%-55% of patients who receive TMS for OCD report reduced symptoms 30 days after their treatment. The IOCDF has also made the following recommendations for people who are thinking about receiving TMS for OCD:

  • OCD patients should start with exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) and medication.
  • If these services don’t result in an acceptable decrease of symptoms, TMS for OCD may be an ideal adjunct service. The IOCDF noted that about 30% of OCD patients don’t benefit from ERP and medication alone.
  • Patients who receive TMS for OCD should continue to participate in ERP therapy. If they have been taking medication, they should continue that as well.

How to Find a Clinic That Offers TMS Therapy for Treating OCD

When you’re seeking TMS or any other forms of treatment for OCD, it can be difficult to decide which clinic, facility, or provider is right for you. Here are a few tips to help you choose the best source of care:

  • Educate yourself about TMS for OCD (which you’ve already begun to do by reading this page). As you have learned in this post, there isn’t just one type of TMS therapy. The more you learn about the features, benefits, and potential drawbacks of each version, the better prepared you will be to make the most informed decision.
  • Talk to a professional. If you have been seeing a counselor or therapist, ask them about TMS for OCD. If you’re not currently in therapy or counseling, you can talk to your family doctor or a mental health advocacy organization near you. 
  • Contact providers in your area that offer TMS for OCD. When you speak to representatives of the providers that you are considering, don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions about their programming and philosophy. For example, how will the center assess your needs and determine if you’re a good candidate for TMS for OCD? Do they only offer TMS, or can you also take part in other types of treatment at the center?

The good news is that you have many options when it comes to getting professional help for OCD. The not-as-great news is that it can be difficult to determine which option best aligns with your needs and expectations. 

Remember: There’s no single path to improved health that works for everyone. Focus your attention on finding a provider that will answer all your questions, thoroughly assess the full scope of your needs, and develop a customized treatment plan just for you.

Contact Conscious Health Center About Using TMS for OCD

Conscious Health offers a dynamic array of cutting-edge outpatient mental health services, including TMS for OCD. 

At our OCD treatment center in Los Angeles, California, you will have the opportunity to work with experienced professionals who care about you as a unique individual, and who are committed to developing the focused solutions that will meet the full scope of your specific needs.

To learn more about TMS for OCD or any other aspect of our programming, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.

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