frequently asked questions


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What is TMS?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) uses brief, repetitive magnetic pulses to stimulate the parts of the brain that regulate mood.  Treatment is done in an outpatient office setting.  No anesthesia or sedation is needed.  You remain awake and alert throughout the treatment, which lasts a little over a half hour.  After the treatment you may walk out of the office, drive yourself, and go on about the rest of your day.  A typical course of treatment consists of about 20 of these sessions, one every week day, for about 4 weeks. 


How does TMS work?

The magnetic pulses delivered during TMS therapy are as powerful as an MRI machine.  Because these magnetic pulses generate a small electric current they trigger the brain cells (neurons) to release neurotransmitters.  It is thought that this process activates and restores the correct balance in the areas of the brain that are linked to depression. 

Is TMS covered by insurance?

Most commercial insurance plans and Medicare cover TMS.  Individual coverage varies depending on the details of your plan/policy. Often, a prior authorization must be obtained from the insurance company before starting treatment.  TMS Maine staff will help you with this process.

Are there side effects?

During clinical trials of TMS therapy, the most common side effects reported were mild to moderate discomfort on the scalp and headache.  Most patients find that if they experience these at all they lessen and may go away completely after the first week or so of treatment and they are usually helped with over-the-counter pain relievers. 

Unlike medications which circulate through your whole body and can cause many systemic side effects, TMS therapy delivers stimulation focused directly on the areas of the brain involved with mood regulation.  Because the effects are localized, there is no weight gain, loss of desire, sleepiness, stomach upset, or any of the other side effects that can be associated with antidepressants.

Is it like "healing magnets"?

Definitely not.  The type of magnets used in bracelets, shoe inserts, knee wraps, etc. that you might have seen, are very different from the magnet used in TMS.  TMS uses a powerful electromagnet that delivers rapid, repetitive pulses.  The field is focused so that only the targeted areas are stimulated.  The strength of the magnetic pulses is enough to trigger and activate the brain cells (neurons).  This would never be possible with those other magnets.  Moreover, the effectiveness of TMS therapy has been demonstrated in many controlled clinical trials and published medical research. 

Is it like “shock treatments”?

During TMS treatment, you are fully awake and alert.  There is no sedation or anesthesia of any kind.  The treatment is done at the office, not in a hospital.  You are able to drive yourself, walk out of the office, and go about your day.

The medical term for what is commonly called “shock treatment” is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).  Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a very effective treatment and remains an excellent option for some patients.  However, it is somewhat invasive and can have significant side effects including transient memory problems, confusion, headaches, and jaw pain. ECT delivers electrical current to the brain and causes a global seizure (activation of the entire brain).  ECT must be done in a hospital under general anesthesia.  Along with sedation, intravenous medications are given during ECT to relax the muscles.  Additionally, there are risks associated with general anesthesia.  Patients receiving ECT are not able to drive themselves and are often sedated for a large part of the day following a treatment.

Are there risks?

NeuroStar TMS Therapy has been shown to be well tolerated and the Neurostar TMS Therapy system has been demonstrated to be safe in clinical trials. Throughout over 10,000 active treatments performed in clinical trials, the most commonly reported side effect related to treatment was scalp discomfort during treatment sessions. This side effect was generally mild to moderate, and occurred less frequently after the first week of treatment. Less than 5% of patients treated with NeuroStar TMS Therapy discontinued treatment due to side effects.

In NeuroStar clinical trials, over 10,000 TMS treatments demonstrated its safety, with no occurrence of seizures. However, because we are stimulating the brain there is s a very small risk of a seizure during treatment. Many people are not aware that antidepressants also carry a risk of seizures.  The risk of seizure from TMS is no greater than with antidepressant medications.

How do I know if it will work?

While NeuroStar TMS treatment has been demonstrated to be effective, not all patients will benefit from it. Patients should be carefully monitored for worsening symptoms, signs or symptoms of suicidal behavior, and/or unusual behavior. Families and caregivers should also be aware of the need to observe patients and notify their treatment provider if symptoms worsen.

Will TMS affect my memory or concentration?

The possibility of effects on memory and concentration were systematically evaluated during clinical trials.  These studies demonstrated that NeuroStar TMS Therapy does not result in any negative effects on memory or concentration.