TMS (Transcranial magnetic stimulation) & Me

“Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. TMS is typically used when other depression treatments haven’t been effective.” – Mayo Clinic. For more details visit Mayo Clinic

TMS therapy is offered at the University where my psychiatrist is located. TMS is currently only approved for depression using a specific protocol. (number of treatments, the length of each treatment, and the strength of the pulses)

I found TMS treatments intriguing since it’s an approach to depression without the trial and error of medications. My doctor thought it would benefit me. I researched it on the internet and was especially interested in any effects it might have in reducing anxiety. I read some anecdotal evidence that it may help alleviate anxiety symptoms. Depression and anxiety sometimes being comorbid, my doctor’s opinion is that those whose conditions are closely linked benefit (from anxiety relief) the most.  Still, I was hopeful that it would help with anxiety since that is presently my primary debilitating condition.

I’m not convinced that my anxiety and depression are as tightly linked as my doctor thinks they are but I was willing to try something since my conditions are debilitating and keeping me from work, social activities, and living life fully.   Cognitive Behavior Therapy and meds (Wellbutrin XL & Xanex) are my standard treatments and I have been making slow and steady progress, but this seemed like it could be a literal “jump start”.

During the initial consultation TMS therapy was explained to me and I was asked to complete questionnaires and rating scales to determine my beginning level of mood, depression, and anxiety. (Hamilton Scales?) These scores served as my baseline. Every week the forms are completed and the data compiled. In addition to my self evaluation, the provider also asks similar questions and completes their own set of forms for scoring.

The first session is to “map” your brain to determine the measurements for the placement of the coils.  The TMS machine is something like a mini MRI and it makes loud tapping noises (earplugs are worn by everyone in the room). The coil never actually touches your head but you can feel a repetitive tapping on your scalp akin to having a woodpecker going to town on your head. The physical discomfort for me was minimal. The other part of the initial session is what, looking back,  I call finding your twitch.  They have to find out where the pulse will cause your fingers or face to twitch, which, if I am explaining it correctly, determines the final placement of the coils for treatment.  The aim is to get the coils in the correct area of the brain without producing the twitches during treatment.  After the first session TMS treatments are given daily (Monday to Friday) for about 6 weeks. The last two weeks are for weaning off and the treatments drop to twice a week. Each treatment lasts approximately 40 minutes.

Of course my anxiety rears its ugly head at the beginning of this process and I almost didn’t go through with the therapy after my initial session.  You see, I don’t like hospitals or medical procedures,  and simply sitting in a chair at the doctor’s office for 40 minutes was a challenge I had to constantly fight to overcome.

I nearly called the whole thing off once my face started twitching.  I panic at the slightest physical abnormality and having my face and fingers move uncontrollably set me off; I had a panic attack in the chair during the initial session but managed to calm myself and made it through. Desperate for any potential for relief I put every tool I have to work to keep me in that chair.

That was the beginning of my TMS adventure. I have linked information on TMS at the top of the page because I’m not always the best at explaining the details and technical information. If your interested in the therapy I would encourage you to read up on it. Also, I welcome any questions.

Upcoming posts will be about the experiences of my on-going treatments and their results.

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