This interesting article and video from the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch show how trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is administered to a patient. TMS therapy, which uses a highly focused, pulsed magnetic field to stimulate function in targeted areas of the brain, was cleared by the FDA in October 2008 as a treatment for depression in patients that do not respond to antidepressant medications. Some patients appear to have very good results, while others do not report a change.
With all of its tapping noices, this therapy sounds a lot like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which of course is used to identify physical problems--like what was wrong with my knee--instead of x-rays or a CAT scan. But, of course, TMS doesn't do imaging. Instead, TMS therapy directs a series of magnetic pulses at a targeted area in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. These pulses are believed to stimulate activity in the area and promote the release of neurotransmitters. For depression sufferers, TMS offers a much gentler (though longer) course of treatment than electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in that it can be received while conscious and that it has no effect on memories. A typical course of TMS treatment involves daily visits of about 40 minutes for a course of four to six weeks.
The major maker of TMS equipment is Neuronetics (Malvern, Penn.) In the years that we have covered the topic of TMS, its popularity certainly seems to have grown, with more and more hospitals and behavioral health providers around the US now offering the service.