TMS and ECT Therapy: An Examination

TMS, also known as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, is a non-invasive treatment method by which short electrical pulses are delivered to specific areas of the brain that may have insufficient or weak neuron stimulation. Besides being highly effective, it is also completely safe and relatively pain free. But what exactly sets TMS apart from other options like Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)?

The answer lies in the specific ways in which each type of treatment impacts the brain as well as the different benefits and downsides that can come with choosing one treatment option over the other.

TMS: An Overview 

Compared to other types of non-pharmaceutical treatment options, TMS Therapy is relatively new, having come about in the 1980s. Since then, it has continued to increase in popularity, with the Federal Drug Association (FDA) approving it as a treatment for major depression in 2008. However, its uses have expanded far beyond that to include the management of migraines, schizophrenia, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.

Patients often turn to TMS as a treatment option when other traditional remedies such as antidepressants fail to address their symptoms (such as in treatment resistant depression). Thus, one benefit of TMS is being able to avoid the potentially negative side effects of these medications, which can include unwanted weight gain, hallucinations, and sexual dysfunction. Furthermore, though TMS has a few mild side effects of its own, they are relatively short-lasting and often impermanent, leading to no long term effects.

TMS is also non-invasive and does not require anesthesia or painkillers to get through. This is especially important when compared to ECT, a process in which general anesthesia is required. The difference in recovery times may be especially important for those who can’t afford to take off from their regular life or work for too long. With TMS, patients can resume their normal activities immediately after a session.

Finally, the last major benefit of TMS may be its cost. TMS is relatively inexpensive, averaging roughly 500 dollars per session. However, since TMS is a relatively newer treatment, insurance companies may not always cover it. For more information regarding the specifics of this, contact your insurance provider to see their policy regarding TMS.

Besides the possibility of it not being covered by insurance, there are a few additional downsides to TMS. First, although results from TMS can become apparent as quickly as after one session of the treatment, patients can achieve better results when they receive multiple sessions, which can be frustrating for those who may want immediate results. And while TMS is mostly painless and doesn’t cause as much discomfort as other similar treatments, symptoms can vary from patient to patient, with some having reported headaches, spasms of the muscles, and in the most severe cases, seizures, induced periods of mania, and hearing loss if sufficient ear protection is not worn during the treatments.

ECT: An Overview

Compared to TMS, ECT is a riskier operation, often involving anesthesia and some amount of recovery time after each session. Still, it’s a highly effective way of treating illnesses that have failed to respond to all other treatments.

ECT was developed in the 1930s, and has significantly evolved since then, both in management and patient outcomes. Unlike TMS, which involves the use of magnetic fields to stimulate neurons, ECT uses an electrical current to induce a seizure that changes the chemical environment of the brain. This can improve the symptoms of illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder.

One benefit of ECT is that it can be used in lieu of drugs such as antidepressants which may either be ineffective for the patient, or have unwanted side effects (such as in the case of older adults or pregnant women). Additionally, like TMS, ECT works quickly, with patients seeing results almost immediately, though it is recommended that they receive multiple sessions in order for the treatment to be most effective. Finally, unlike TMS, ECT is covered by most insurance companies.

Once again, ECT has its own fair share of downsides, with the first being the heavy stigma surrounding it. Prior to proper medical research conducted on safe ECT practices, patients were known to suffer from severe memory loss, broken bones, and even death. Furthermore, the term “electroconvulsive” may bring with it negative connotations, leading some patients with psychiatric disorders to avoid treatment for fear of what it might mean. And even though ECT is covered by most insurances, the cost per session can be upwards of 2500 dollars, making it even more expensive than TMS, and thus, inaccessible to certain populations.

Which Treatment Is Right For You?

Both treatments have their positives and negatives. Patients may wonder which treatment they should seek, but the choice is often not an easy one and should be discussed with a physician or other healthcare specialist.

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