In repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a coil of wire encased in plastic is placed on the patient’s head. It is then charged with a powerful electrical current to create a series of brief, rapid, ultra-strong magnetic pulses. These pulses of magnetism reduce depression, possibly by causing serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine to be released in the brain. No electricity enters your body, there is no interruption of consciousness, and there is no need for anesthesia or sedation. Some people experience a slightly painful sensation on the head at the time of treatment or headaches afterward, but there is no sense of electrical stimulation.
In one study, patients who had not responded to antidepressants obtained relief from their depression after taking rTMS several times a week for four to six weeks. Continuing rTMS treatments or medications were used to keep their depression at bay after that.
While rTMS has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in treatment-resistant depression, you may want to wait for more information on rTMS before you decide to run giant magnetic currents through your head.
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