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What is TMS? What the PULSES Conference Taught Us and Future Implications

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, TMS for short, utilizes an electromagnetic coil that is placed against your head near your forehead. The coil then delivers a painless, repetitive magnetic pulse that stimulates nerve cells in the region of your brain associated with depression. The procedure is non-invasive and the sensation is often compared to a tapping on the head. But how does it work? Although the actual biology of why TMS works isn't completely known, the treatment appears to activate regions of the brain associated with depression that exhibit decreased activity. By increasing activity in those regions we find that many patients feel symptom relief that wasn't possible with their medication regimens and talk therapy.

Now what exactly is it like during treatment? When people think of TMS, they often picture an intimidating machine and expect the likes of an electric chair. However, that is not the case! As a Technician, it is our goal to make you feel comfortable and safe during treatment. We encourage you to engage in positive stimuli during the treatment session such as talking to the technician, watching a funny show on Netflix, listening to happy or relaxing music and even meditating. I had the opportunity to attend the PULSES Conference in Nashville and learned the many roles and responsibilities of being a TMS tech, the most important being optimizing patient comfort and treatment outcomes.

Although TMS is well-known for the treatment of depression, the PULSES conference shed light on possible future uses that are currently being researched. A few that really stood out to me were for the treatment of Nicotine addiction, PTSD, Bipolar depression, Schizophrenia, and Neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. TMS is unique for its non-invasive nature and minimal side effects, therefore ongoing research for the use of TMS as an alternative treatment option can create major breakthroughs in the medical field. Pharmaceutical therapies do not have to be our only option, especially when so many of them are accompanied with a laundry-list of side effects.

The PULSES conference also touched on the multitude of difficulties that providers face with making treatment accessible. Many of those that would greatly benefit from TMS treatments are denied coverage due to trivial standards set by insurance companies. Often times, mental health facilities have to jump through hoops to authorize treatment for those in dire need -- something that the conference organizers, the Clinical TMS Society, are avidly working to improve. It is their hope, and ours, that TMS will become more attainable in the near future and will continue to spread awareness about the recognition and accessibility that it deserves.

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