rTMS Treatment – Magnets for Depression

rTMS Treatment – Magnets for Depression

Let’s face it, you’re human so you’re going to get sad now and again. However, chances are you’ll snap out of it and find yourself smiling more often than not. Yet, for over sixteen million Americans, snapping out of it may not be possible. If you find yourself unhappy, acting out, or even angry most of the time chances are you could be experiencing major depressive disorder (MDD). 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA),  

“Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people ages 15-44.” 

In addition to talk and behavioral therapy, most medical applications for addressing MDD involve a variety of powerful pharmaceuticals that tamp down symptoms and often include annoying or difficult side effects. In some cases, specific surgeries may be recommended to combat the debilitating effects of MDD. Even though alternative approaches such as acupuncture and botanical medicines for depression are being used, MDD is one of the most difficult to address. 

Currently, rTMS or repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Therapy is showing promise for this difficult to treat depressive state. It is a natural, non-invasive approach that may help minor to major depression (such as MDD) and bring some much needed light to so many suffering in the dark. 

MDD and Depression Symptoms

Although MDD is a deep depression level, these symptoms posted by the ADAA may also be applied to less debilitating, but just as chronic, afflictions.

  • Overwhelming feeling of sadness
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in most usual activities 
  • Decrease or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia 
  • Hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
  • Psycho motor agitation (excessive repetitive movement)
  • Constant fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness 
  • Excessive and inappropriate guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death and suicidal ideas with or without plans for committing suicide
  • Cognitive difficulties, such as, diminished ability to think, concentrate and make decisions 

One or more of these symptoms can persist for two weeks or longer and often represent a significant change from previous functioning. Social, occupational, educational, or other important functioning is also impacted. For instance, the person may start missing work or school, or stop going to classes or their usual social activities. If you struggle with any of these symptoms or behaviors, talk to your physician or naturopathic doctor for a proper diagnosis as you may be a candidate for rTMS. 

Brain Pulsation

There is a field of study called biomagnetism which researches magnetic fields produced by the human body. Mostly, scientists use a SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device) to measure magnetic release from the body, primarily the brain. This is called a magneto-encephalogram or MEG. The main purpose of a MEG scan is to learn more about the brain. However, in 1831 scientists instinctually created some prototype rTMS device attempts described in the paper ‘History, Studies and Specific Uses of Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) in Treating Epilepsy’ which was published in the Iranian Journal of Child Neurology (2016) stating that,

“…experiments revealed that the use of magnetic coils over a person’s head could bring about feelings of dizziness and giddiness.”

In 1985, this modality was picked up by Barker, A.T., Jalinous, R. and Freeston, I.L. in their study, ‘Noninvasive magnetic stimulation of human motor cortex’. These researchers found that magnetic fields affected the body’s electrical system much more than first thought. Many biomagnetism attempts were made using a variety of practices and devices which included:

  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS)
  • Transcranial Electrical Stimulation (TES)
  • Transcranial Random Noise Stimulation (TRNS) 
  • Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (TACS)
  • High-definition Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (HD-TDCS)

The most used is currently rTMS. Harvard Medical School describes how rTMS works, including some minor contraindications that should be considered, 

 “Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is a noninvasive form of brain stimulation. TMS devices operate completely outside of the body and affect central nervous system activity by applying powerful magnetic fields to specific areas of the brain that we know are involved in depression. TMS doesn’t require anesthesia and it is generally exceptionally well tolerated as compared to the side effects often seen with medications and ECT [electroconvulsive therapy or “shock therapy”) ]. The most common side effect is headache during or after treatment. A rare but serious side effect is seizures, and TMS may not be appropriate for people at high risk such as those with epilepsy, a history of head injury, or other serious neurologic issues.”

Overall, you’ll lie in a comfortable chair, an electromagnetic coil will be placed near your head, and it will switch off and on repeatedly pulsating. You’ll hear ticking sounds and feel some tapping on your forehead which is called mapping and lets your doctor know how much magnetic energy you need. This is also indicated when your fingers and toes begin to twitch. Nothing is painful and the procedure lasts about 40 minutes. It may take one to two sessions per week for four to six weeks before results can be determined. Some insurance carriers may cover this protocol. 

Magnetic Mellowing

The responses to rTMS have been promising. Some report minor reactions while others claim their depression was considerably reduced. The New England Journal of Medicine NEJM Journal Watch posted in February of 2019 that, 

Overall, 47% of patients responded, and 29% remitted. Four distinct response pattern trajectories — which did not differ by treatment protocol — emerged at 6 weeks.

  • Rapid response (19%): dramatic improvement by week 2; associated with older age, lower baseline depression scores, and no benzodiazepine use
  • Linear response with lower baseline symptoms (40%)
  • Linear response with higher baseline symptoms (30%)
  • Nonresponse (11%): associated with higher baseline depression scores; trend toward benzodiazepine use

It is important to note that after a treatment regiment is completed sometimes symptoms can arise again. If this is the case you can start another treatment which is known as re-induction.

Using rTMS treatment is a revolutionary, alternative approach to depression, especially treatment-resistant depression. Talk to your health practitioner to determine if you might be eligible for this non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical approach to relieving depression.