What Is rTMS? (Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

We explore the question ‘what is rTMS?’, and break down why it’s the treatment of choice for healthcare professionals worldwide.

What is Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) for Depression?

Awareness of depression and its symptoms and treatments are growing, and with that, as a society we become more self-aware. For years, antidepressants have been the accepted first-line treatment for depression but times are changing. You may have heard of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), which is a relatively new, non-invasive treatment for depression that doesn’t need drugs. Here, we’ll take an in-depth look at rTMS and its impact on depression. And why it’s quickly becoming the preferred treatment of choice by professionals.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that 280 million people across the world suffer from depression. This common mental health condition is twice as prevalent in women than men. And in people with chronic physical health conditions it is thought that depression is up to three times more common. Unfortunately, all these numbers are likely to be an underestimation as many people do not recognise they have depression, or seek help for it.

Depression does not discriminate, and people from all walks of life can become depressed. Many people believe that depression is just a part of modern-day life, but this can be a dangerous opinion – if left untreated, depression can get worse over time. It can impact all areas of life, including relationships, work life, and the ability to function on a daily basis. Depression is a serious health condition that should be treated as early as possible as it can also lead to other physical health conditions, including heart disease.

What Does Depression Look Like?

What Is rTMS? (Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

Depression can take on many faces but for the vast majority of people it looks like feeling low on most days, a loss of enjoyment from activities that previously brought pleasure, feelings of worthlessness, issues concentrating, intrusive thoughts, and short term memory problems. Sometimes people that are depressed can even feel like they lose their ability to feel love and fondness for their friends and family.

Depression also has physical symptoms like weight gain or weight loss, libido problems, issues sleeping, feeling fatigued, gut problems and more. These symptoms can persist for not just weeks but months – even years.

“I’m on antidepressants but haven’t seen any difference in my depression symptoms”. Sounds familiar? Many people are prescribed antidepressants for depression but are not seeing their symptoms improve. Alternatively, they experience too many side effects to make it feel worthwhile. Thankfully, there has been much research into and development of new ways to treat depression without antidepressants or other drugs. Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) is one such treatment.

What is rTMS?

The brain is an electrical organ that uses electrical signals between nerve cells. rTMS uses a coil which delivers a pulsed magnetic field to the Dorso-Lateral Prefrontal Cortex, the area of the brain that regulates mood, to alter the activity in this particular area of the brain. Although it sounds scary, this is a non-invasive treatment that is considered safe and effective. It had been used in the US for years before coming to the UK. There are many private clinics now offering rTMS in London.

How Does rTMS Work?

You will lie back in a comfortable chair and relax whilst the rTMS coil is placed against the scalp. You will remain in this position for approximately 30 minutes to complete one treatment session. You may feel a tingling or even a slight headache but many patients do not feel anything at all. One of the observations many people who have undergone rTMS make is that they do not experience any of the side effects of antidepressants.

rTMS is a very time-intensive treatment that requires around five sessions a week for up to six weeks, depending on recommendations from your healthcare provider. Some patients start to notice a difference after just a few weeks.

Recovery From Depression

What Is rTMS? (Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)

rTMS is only available through the NHS in very few areas and patients will need to meet very stringent guidelines in order to be referred. Whilst private rTMS is not cheap, this treatment certainly shows promise as one of the most effective treatments for long-term remission of depression. 

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