Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation: Side Effects

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TMS therapy has proved to be a beneficial service for people who have been living with some forms of anxiety, depression, and certain other mental health disorders. While the procedure poses minimal risk of harm, some people do experience transcranial magnetic stimulation side effects.

How Does Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Work?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive technique that uses directed electromagnetic pulses to stimulate areas of the brain that may be associated with certain mental health concerns and neurological disorders.

Specifics can vary from provider to provider, but most TMS sessions follow a similar process:

  • Prior to receiving TMS, you will meet with the provider to discuss your symptoms and treatment goals, and to determine if transcranial magnetic stimulation is right for you.
  • Before starting the procedure, your provider will take some measurements to ensure that the electromagnetic pulses are directed properly for maximum benefit.
  • During the procedure, you will sit or recline in a comfortable chair.
  • A member of your treatment team will place a small coil against your scalp, usually near your forehead. This coil may be part of a cap or helmet, and it will be attached to the machine that generates the electromagnetic pulses.
  • Once the coil is placed correctly, your provider will switch on the machine. When this occurs, you will hear a clicking sound and may feel a light tapping sensation where the coil is touching your scalp.
  • The electromagnetic pulses that are emitted from the coil will penetrate your skull and reach a few centimeters into your brain. Once in your brain, these pulses can promote greater neural activity in areas that are related to the mental health concern you have been experiencing.
  • A full session usually lasts around 30 minutes. However, the time you spend in a session can be much longer or shorter than this, depending on your needs and the type of TMS therapy you are receiving.

 

Since TMS therapy is a noninvasive procedure, you won’t require any anesthesia or sedation. You will remain awake and alert throughout the entire process.

Once the session ends, as long as you’re not experiencing any distressing transcranial magnetic stimulation side effects, you can leave the office where you received care and fully engage in the rest of your day. This can include returning to work, driving a car, operating machinery, and performing other tasks without limitation.

What Are the Side Effects of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is safe and relatively painless. Most people are able to complete a session without any lingering effects. However, some patients develop TMS side effects. 

The transcranial magnetic stimulation side effects that seldom occur are relatively mild. These include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Discomfort where the coil touched your scalp
  • Tingling sensation or twitching muscles in your face
  • Pain in your jaw
  • Slight ringing in your ears
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds
  • Fatigue

 

More severe, but thankfully very uncommon, TMS side effects can include:

  • Seizure
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Eye damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Onset of a manic episode (if the patient has bipolar disorder)

How Common Are the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Side Effects?

Several researchers have attempted to determine how often people experience side effects after participating in TMS therapy. The following are the results of two such efforts.

In July 2023, the journal Brain Stimulation published a report on the prevalence of transcranial magnetic stimulation side effects. 

This study involved 884 patients who had received a version of TMS known as deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS). The patients had participated in one of five dTMS studies that were conducted between 2011-2023. The rates of adverse effects included:

  • Headache: 35.43%
  • Discomfort at coil location 29.92%
  • Muscle spasms: 5.91%
  • Jaw pain: 5.71%
  • Neck pain: 4.53%
  • Dental pain: 2.56%
  • General discomfort: 2.56%

 

A review on a similar topic was published by the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in November 2020. That review focused on adults ages 60 and above who received repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) for late-life depression.

After analyzing 11 studies that involved 353 older adult patients, the review team reported the following about TMS side effects:

  • 12.4% of the older adults who participated in these studies experienced some type of side effects.
  • 1.5% of the study participants developed what the review team described as “serious adverse effects” from TMS therapy.
  • The most common TMS side effect was headache, which affected 6.9% of participants.
  • The second most common TMS side effect was discomfort at the treatment site, which was reported by 2.7% of participants.
  • Among the serious effects, three participants (0.84% of the group) required psychiatric hospitalization, one (0.28% of the group) had suicidal thoughts, and one experienced eye problems.

What to Do if You Have Side Effects From TMS

You should alert your treatment provider or another qualified professional if you develop any TMS side effects:

  • If any effects occur immediately after a session, tell your provider about them right then. 
  • If you develop mild effects between sessions that you think may be related to TMS, talk to your provider about them before you start your next session.
  • If you experience severe effects, notify your treatment provider, family doctor, or another healthcare professional right away. Don’t wait until your next session to report any serious problems.

 

Finally, if you fear that you or someone you care about is at imminent risk of suicide, regardless of whether or not you think this crisis is related to TMS therapy, please get help immediately. 

In the United States, you can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 from any phone. You can also access this free service online at https://988lifeline.org/

Contact Conscious Health to Learn More About Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Conscious Health offers an array of innovative, evidence-based services – including transcranial magnetic stimulation – to help adults whose lives have been disrupted by anxiety, depression, and certain other mental health concerns.

When you choose our mental health treatment center in Los Angeles, California, you will have the opportunity to work in close collaboration with a team of dedicated professionals. We will review your history with you, assess your strengths and needs, and develop a customized plan to help you make sustained progress toward a healthier future.

To learn more about TMS or any other aspect of treatment at Conscious Health, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today. We look forward to answering all your questions and helping you decide if our center is the perfect place for you.

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