Dr. Arielle Stanford helps treat persistent depression with transcranial magnetic stimulation.

A new option to alleviate severe depression symptoms that are not responding to traditional treatment can now be obtained during a series of one-hour doctor visits – even over the lunch hour – using a wand and an easy chair.

It may sound a bit like a scene from a fairy tale, but the science is real. Known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), the treatment uses magnetic pulses to target areas of the brain in people suffering from persistent symptoms of depression, despite available medications.

“Many people with more severe depression do not receive adequate relief from medications alone,” says Dr. Arielle Stanford, Director of the  Program in Brain Stimulation in the Department of Psychiatry at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). “TMS is a non-invasive and non-pharmacological treatment to relieve symptoms with minimal side effects. It’s the latest FDA-approved treatment in brain stimulation for psychiatric conditions, an exciting area in the field of psychiatry.”

TMS uses a coil wand placed on the surface of the head to deliver magnetic pulses to areas of the brain associated with depressive symptoms.  “We know that depression is linked to decreased activity in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain,” says Dr. Stanford. “By stimulating that area of the brain with these high-frequency magnetic pulses, we can help alleviate depression in a way that can be difficult to achieve with medication alone.”

TMS treatment takes about 60 minutes and is provided five times per week, over a period of six weeks. No sedation or anesthesia is required, and there are no long-term side effects after treatment. After a TMS session, patients can immediately return to work or other regular activities. During active TMS treatment, patients may experience some tingling or tapping sensations on the scalp, though Dr. Stanford notes that most patients do not find TMS treatment uncomfortable. After the TMS series is complete, patients begin taking a new antidepressant medication to maintain their response.

TMS is approved for use in people who experience episodes of depression despite taking medications available for the treatment of depression.

Are you interested in learning more about depression and various treatment options? Visit our Depression Center webpage.

– Jessica F


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