How Long Does It Take for TMS to Start Working?

When someone is struggling with a mood disorder like depression, the traditional approach employs a combination of talk therapy and medication. This front line of treatment is effective for many patients, but there are disadvantages to consider. Many medications come with undesirable side effects that can impact your quality of life, and some people have symptoms that don’t respond to treatment, no matter how many adjustments the provider makes to the treatment plan.

For these patients, Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy can result in lasting relief from mood disorder symptoms. In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of TMS therapy, so you can determine if it is a form of treatment you should explore further.

What Is TMS and What Is It Used to Treat?

TMS is a non-invasive treatment that stimulates nerve cells in the brain with magnetic fields. TMS is most commonly used to treat depression that is resistant to traditional methods. However, it also shows promise in treating other conditions, including:

  • Anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Chronic pain
  • Nicotine addiction
  • Tinnitus
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Multiple sclerosis

How Long Does It Take to Start Working?

As with any type of treatment, two of the most frequently asked questions are: “how long does it take for TMS therapy to start working?” and “when do you feel the effects of TMS?”

There is considerable variation in how patients respond, with some feeling a change in symptoms as early as the first week of treatment. Others don’t see much noticeable change until several weeks later. These differences are due to the unique characteristics of each individual brain, and not feeling a change as quickly as another person is not an indicator that the treatment isn’t effective.

There are a few factors that influence how well people respond to TMS therapy, including:

  • Age: Because younger patients have greater neuroplasticity, they tend to respond better faster.
  • Personality: People who score high in persistence on the Temperament and Character Inventory test may respond to TMS more quickly than patients who score lower.
  • Treatment resistance: People who are less resistant to antidepressants may respond better to TMS treatment.
  • Current antidepressant regimen: Patients who continue an antidepressant regimen while undergoing TMS may receive compounded benefits.

How long do TMS effects last? Once TMS starts working, the effects are long-lasting. A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry studied patients resistant to antidepressants who received one six-week course of TMS treatment. In a follow-up one year after the TMS course, 62.5% of the patients remained free of symptoms.

Benefits of TMS Therapy

In addition to a relatively quick onset of symptom relief and long-lasting effects, there are a variety of other benefits that make TMS therapy a good option for mood disorder treatment, such as:

  • Non-systemic: Medications for mood disorders must enter the bloodstream to work. This can cause long-lasting side-effects that may be unpleasant or disruptive.
  • Non-sedating: Patients are awake during the treatment and remain alert throughout.
  • Non-invasive: Nothing is inserted into the body, so there is no concern about incisions.
  • Highly convenient: Because there are minimal side effects and no sedation, patients do not need to schedule recovery time after the procedure and can fit treatments into tight schedules. 
  • Proven: TMS is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and demonstrated as effective for the treatment of major depressive disorder. Medicare and the majority of private insurance companies cover it.

The TMS Treatment Process at Principium Psychiatry in Midtown Manhattan

Although “transcranial magnetic stimulation” sounds like it might be an uncomfortable or frightening form of treatment, it is neither invasive nor painful. A course of TMS treatment usually includes sessions five times per week for a period of four to six weeks, although some patients benefit from periodic maintenance treatment after the first course is complete. Each session lasts between 20 minutes and one hour. Here’s what you can expect from TMS treatment at Principium Psychiatry:

1. Brain Mapping

TMS begins with your treatment team completing the process of “brain mapping.” A single magnetic pulse stimulates your brain to produce hand movements that indicate the right location and energy settings. This process takes place in a separate initial appointment and takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete.

2. A Comfortable Procedure

During the procedure itself, you will get comfortable in a reclining chair in the procedure room. The procedure is performed by a doctor, nurse practitioner, and TMS technician who will position the magnetic coil at your left temple. Once you decide you’re ready to get started, the operator will start the machine with a series of short magnetic pulses. The pulses come rapidly and in a cycle punctuated with short breaks. The length of your session depends on the results of your brain mapping procedure and a consultation with your doctor.

You’ll hear clicking with each pulse in the cycle, and may feel a “tapping.” You will be conscious and alert, so you can feel free to ask questions or chat with your operator. You can also listen to music, read a book or watch TV during the procedure.

3. Minimal Side Effects

Most people find the clicking to be minimally obtrusive. We do recommend wearing ear plugs to protect your hearing. The only side effects to prepare for are a mild headache and possible tenderness. If these symptoms do occur, they typically disappear after the first few sessions and are easily alleviated with over-the-counter medications.

4. Personalized Care

Principium Psychiatry understands the need for care that’s tailored to the individual. Our treatment is discreet and takes place in a private office. Our team will work with your primary psychiatrist to ensure we know everything we need to in order to make your treatment as successful as possible. Your doctor will perform an evaluation and consultation to inform your TMS treatment.

Contact Principium Psychiatry for TMS Treatment in NYC

If you are interested in TMS treatment for your depression or other mood disorder, Principium Psychiatry is here to provide guidance and expert treatment. As one of the few clinics licensed for TMS and other new treatments in New York City, we consider it our duty to provide dedicated treatments to patients located in NYC, across the U.S. and even internationally.

For more information on TMS therapy and our other treatment offerings, call Principium Psychiatry at 212-335-0236. You can also take the first step toward relief from your symptoms by scheduling an appointment with us online.

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