Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS, or TMS)

What is TMS?

TMS is a non-invasive procedure that has been extensively studied for the treatment of depression and other brain disorders. TMS involves placing a coil on the scalp that generates a magnetic field for about four seconds. This process is repeated every minute for 20 to 40 minutes per treatment session. The magnetic field stimulates neurons in the brain, which can help to alleviate symptoms of depression.  TMS treatments are usually applied over a course of three to six weeks, with five treatment sessions per week.   

When is TMS recommended?

TMS, which has been available in Canada for several years, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008 for the treatment of major depressive disorder in adults who have failed to improve with antidepressant medications.

How are TMS treatments administered?

Because the coil is positioned against the side of the head, the procedure does not require intravenous needles, incisions or anesthesia.  TMS can be administered in an office setting as an outpatient.  The equipment used is similar to that found in a dentist’s office.

What are the side effects of TMS?

Unlike medications, TMS is targeted to a specific part of the brain. The most common side effect reported is irritation or mild pain at the site of stimulation, which can often be relieved by repositioning the coil. More serious side effects, such as an induced seizure, are very rare (less than one in 1,000).

Is TMS safe?

TMS is an extremely safe treatment, and serious side effects are rare.  However, TMS should only be prescribed and administered by a licensed physician. Patients with seizure disorders or other medical conditions such as brain tumors, CSF shunts or metals in the brain may not be candidates for TMS.