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3 Ways TMS Therapy Works on the Brain

Apr 26, 2019

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How TMS Can Reduces Symptoms of Depression, OCD, and Other Conditions Transcranial magnetic stimulation, also known as TMS therapy, is a non-invasive, drug-free alternative that is FDA approved as a safe and effective therapy for major depression...

How TMS Can Reduces Symptoms of Depression, OCD, and Other Conditions 

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, also known as TMS therapy, is a non-invasive, drug-free alternative that is FDA approved as a safe and effective therapy for major depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) when traditional antidepressants and other medications have not been successful. TMS therapy also shows great promise as an effective off-label treatment for other conditions like anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, and autism. The medical research community is still working to better understand exactly how TMS affects the brain. Here, we will discuss the most conclusive theories revealed by the many clinical trials on TMS for neurological and psychiatric conditions.

TMS therapy works by using an MRI magnet to deliver pulses of energy to the targeted areas of the brain associated with depression, OCD, and other mental health and neurological conditions. TMS can either stimulate nerve cells that are under-active (as in the case of depression) or calm down overactive nerve cells for other conditions like anxiety. The ultimate goal of TMS is to retrain these nerve cells to fire properly when it comes to mood control, which can help someone to reduce symptoms and even achieve full remission from these conditions. 

TMS is research-backed as safe and effective for many who suffer from treatment-resistant depression, OCD, and other mental conditions. TMS therapy is well tolerated with few side effects, most of which are minor. It is a promising alternative for those who are unable to tolerate the severe side effects of many antidepressants, or for people who cannot achieve adequate improvement from traditional drug therapy. TMS as a drug-free option is a relief for many people suffering from depression who cannot or will not take antidepressant medications for other reasons.

How does TMS actually work? In this post, we will discuss three ways TMS therapy is believed to affect the brain to reduce or eliminate symptoms of depression and other difficult-to-treat conditions.

1. TMS Targets Specific Areas of the Brain

Medical science tells us the two areas of the brain believed to be affected by mood disorders like depression and OCD are the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain associated with mood. And the limbic system is associated with emotion.

As previously mentioned, TMS uses an MRI magnet, which delivers pulses of energy into targeted areas of the brain with temporary magnetic fields. Special magnetic coils inside the TMS helmet are positioned directly over the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, directing the energy pulses towards the nerve cells there to help them function properly. 

Stimulating or calming down nerve cells can improve the way your brain manages your emotions

In the case of depression, TMS therapy sends pulses to specific areas of the brain at a frequency designed to stimulate the nerve cells that are not firing well enough to support positive emotions. Evidence suggests that this stimulation can repair the communication pathways between brain regions that control cognition, mood, and emotion, which we’ll discuss more in the next section. TMS therapy can also be applied at a lower frequency to inhibit, or calm down, the overactive firing of nerve cells in other regions of the brain associated with anxiety disorders like OCD and PTSD.

The goal of stimulating or inhibiting nerve cells in these interconnected regions of the brain is to reduce the symptoms of mental health conditions by helping the brain to function better. For instance, TMS could be described as “exercise for the brain”. In other words, like a muscle, exercising it helps it run stronger and better.

2. TMS Therapy Activates Brain Cells

The magnetic pulses delivered by TMS actually produce small electrical currents in the brain that stimulate or activate, cells in the brain. As a result, the activated cells produce neurotransmitters, which help the brain communicate more effectively with other parts of the body.

This repairing of neural pathways could be what makes TMS a promising treatment option for degenerative neurological conditions like dementia or multiple sclerosis (M.S.). Studies on TMS as a treatment for neurological conditions have shown promise, and in some countries outside of the U.S., TMS has even been approved to treat many types of neurological and psychiatric conditions.

3. TMS Therapy Helps Remodel the Brain’s Orientation Maps

TMS also affects the orientation maps in the visual part of our brain. These orientation maps are partially determined by genetics and partially determined by our physical environment. They are located in the part of our brain that helps us interpret what is around us.

When the energy pulses from TMS activate, or turn on, cells that have been damaged by depression or another condition, studies show that the cells are more variable. In other words, the cells didn’t have a preference for performing certain functions.

So TMS therapy provides a window in which you can actually re-teach your brain how to more effectively interpret what is happening around you, which would most likely help improve your mood.

To summarize, depression, OCD, and other mental conditions can cause certain parts of the brain to function incorrectly. TMS targets these areas and helps train the neurons to fire properly again. The best part is that TMS therapy is completely non-invasive, performed in an outpatient setting, and does not require hospitalization or anesthesia. Each session only lasts about 20–30 minutes, after which you can return immediately to daily activities.

TMS may be a great option for you if traditional depression and OCD treatments haven’t worked. Contact us at Serenity Mental Health Centers to learn more about your options.