How Does TMS Treat Moderate-to-Severe Depression?

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How Does TMS Treat Moderate-to-Severe Depression?

Sadness is an occasional human emotion, but depression is a persistent, life-disrupting psychiatric condition that goes beyond the scope of typical emotional responses. Depression comes in various types and degrees and affects some 21 million Americans in one way or another.

Over the years, researchers have worked on perfecting drugs to address this prevalent mental health condition, and their efforts have brought relief to some. However, many people find that conventional treatments don’t work for them, adding to their frustration and exacerbating their depression symptoms. 

If you’re at your wit's end searching for a way to control depression, you’ve come to the right place.

At Breakthru Psychiatric Solutions in Sandy Springs, Georgia, our interventional psychiatrist Dr. Karen Giles specializes in alternative treatments with proven results. When medications and psychotherapy fail, we often recommend innovative transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to treat moderate-to-severe depression.

The truth about depression

Until recently, mental health disorders carried a stigma, causing people to avoid the topic and the sufferers. Today, mental health education is making headway in the fight against mis- and disinformation, but there’s still work to do. 

Before we dive into TMS, let’s take a moment to understand the facts about depression.

1. Depression has many symptoms

Persistent sadness may be the most recognizable depression symptom, but it’s not the only one. Some folks experience a wide range of symptoms, such as:

  • An overwhelming sense of guilt
  • Fatigue
  • Muscles aches and pain
  • Lack of interest in once-loved activities
  • Irritability
  • Anger management issues
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Withdrawal from social situations

Some people who battle depression also develop feelings of hopelessness or helplessness leading to thoughts of suicide. In fact, about 60% of people who die by suicide have major depressive disorder.

2. Depression has many faces

It’s a common misconception that depression is a single condition. Actually, it’s an umbrella term that encompasses several types of depressive disorders, including:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar depression
  • Peri- and post-partum depression
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia)
  • Psychotic depression

Dr. Giles performs a comprehensive consultation to determine which type of depression you have. 

3. Traditional treatments work for some but not for others

Many people have great success with antidepressants and psychotherapy, but about 40% of patients find they have treatment-resistant depression

That’s where we come in.

Dr. Giles has extensive experience helping patients who need next-level treatment to address their moderate-to-severe depression symptoms. 

Limitations of antidepressants

Some researchers find that people with depression have low levels of serotonin, so physicians prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to correct the chemical imbalance. But recent research suggests the previously assumed link between depression and serotonin may be unfounded. Still, SSRIs and cognitive behavioral therapy can reduce symptoms in some people, indicating that more research into the connection is necessary. 

Antidepressants require a trial-and-error period where physicians and patients work together to zero in on the right formula and dosage. This process can take several months or years and often does not completely resolve symptoms. But there’s hope for relief in TMS.

How transcranial magnetic stimulation treats stubborn depression

There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for depression, and there’s always hope in alternative, integrative techniques. If you’ve tried traditional approaches with no success, you may be a good candidate for TMS. Here’s how it works.

Instead of medication, TMS uses an external device containing an electromagnetic coil. The coil generates a magnetic field that sends energy through your skull, targeting a specific portion of your brain. 

The treatment is noninvasive, painless, and very safe. The FDA has approved TMS for treatment-resistant depression, and we also use it to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, chronic pain, migraine headaches, and more.

Dr. Giles controls the intensity of the electrical pulses, but the standard treatment transmits about 2,340 pulses during a single session, which takes about 20 minutes. Over time, these pulses stimulate a part of your brain involved in mood regulation. This region has been shown in functional MRI studies to be inactive in people with moderate-to-severe depression..

If you’re a good candidate for TMS, Dr. Giles recommends five treatments a week for about six weeks. Some patients report a slight headache after the first few sessions, but other than that, there are virtually no side effects, and you can go about your daily routine before and after your treatment. You can expect to notice improvement after four weeks of treatments.

In some cases, Dr. Giles may offer an accelerated treatment format that includes four sessions per day for two weeks.

TMS is often covered by insurance for individuals who have not benefitted from trials of 2-4 antidepressant medications, augmentation medications (like mood stabilizers or antispychotic medications), and psychotherapy in the same depressive episode.

To find out if TMS can address your moderate-to-severe depression symptoms, contact us by phone or online to schedule a consultation.