Many people that are considering undergoing Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) are cautious due to the nature of the therapy. It is good to be cautious about any mental health treatment.

But the good news is that, in the majority of cases, rTMS is very safe. As rTMS is primarily used when other interventions haven’t worked, then accessing this therapy can be great for those struggling with their mental health.

Many people are worried over the nature of rTMS

What is rTMS?

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a type of therapy that can be used to treat an array of mental health conditions. The therapy involves a trained therapist using a magnet in order to apply multiple magnetic pulses to the areas of the brain which are believed to be responsible for the regulation of mood and emotions – called neurotransmitters. In theory, the higher the level of these neurotransmitters, the better mood and emotions become. It is very rarely used as a first line treatment, but if someone has little success in lessening their symptoms with a range of other treatments, then rTMS may be used.

Is rTMS safe?

As mentioned above, rTMS involves a trained mental health professional applying magnetic pulses to targeted areas of the brain. While this may sound worrying, rTMS is highly-regulated, and purely targets areas of the brain that are thought to be related to mood.

Moreover, rTMS is non-invasive – there is no need for any needles or anaesthetic to be administered. Some people may request a sedative, but most people will be absolutely fine without.

Many people think that rTMS is similar to Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). While both target the brain, there are many differences. ECT aims to cause a seizure, but this is not the case with rTMS. We also have an article that reviews how Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) and Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) Compare.

Some critics of rTMS have pointed to apparent issues with the threat of exposure to magnetic fields. However, as patients have very limited exposure to magnetic fields, studies suggest the threat of damage is very low [1].

It is very important to only receive rTMS from a licensed practitioner. Do not be afraid to ask to see someone’s credentials. While the NHS guarantees a person is a professional, when going private, it is important to approach with caution. You can read more about NHS or Private Therapy in our article here.

What are the possible side effects of rTMS?

We have an article that looks into the side effects of rTMS. There are normally minimal side effects, but in very rare cases, the side effects can be rather dangerous. But there is always a threat of this across all health treatments.

The most common side effect of rTMS is a headache. The headache generally lasts up to 24 hours, with a mild painkiller normally enough to stop this. Others talk about jaw pain, temporary hearing problems and a “tingling” feeling – all of which normally wear off within a few hours.

Unfortunately, there is always the chance for rTMS to cause severe side effects – though these are rare. These include short-term memory loss and fainting. In the worst cases, a seizure or manic episode can be triggered – but these are incredibly rare.

It is important to remember that most mental health treatments will have side effects. For example, antidepressants are among the most common medicines taken by people around the world. But they often come with side effects like dry mouth, loss of libido and headaches.

Summary

Overall, it is very understandable to be cautious about any treatment that involves the brain. But most mental health treatments will be doing this one way or another. rTMS is, in the vast majority of cases – safe.

The great thing about rTMS is that it is normally only ever used when a person has not found any relief from other treatments. Therefore, having an option that has proven effective for so many people is very useful.

See Also

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Helplines

If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. With the right support and treatment, you can make a recovery. For information on helplines, or if you are in a state of crisis, please visit our crisis page by clicking on the relevant link for your geographical location (United Kingdom), (United States), (International). You can also see how to get mental health treatment and the process involved by clicking this link.

References

[1] Rossi, S., Hallett, M., Rossini, P. M., Pascual-Leone, A., & The Safety of TMS Consensus Group. (2009). Safety, ethical considerations, and application guidelines for the use of transcranial magnetic stimulation in clinical practice and research. Clinical Neurophysiology. 120 (12): p2008-2039.