TMS Compared to Medication: Understanding Your Options

TMS Compared to Medication: Understanding Your Options

Does TMS work better than medication?


TMS compared to medication, is a topic that many individuals dealing with depression often grapple with. The fight against depression is a challenge that numerous people face today. Thankfully, no one must tread the path of depression alone. In the current scenario, there are several options available to combat depression. The most common initial treatments include antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. However, everyone responds differently to these treatments, and, for many, the side effects of a drug can become unbearable, causing them to discontinue their treatment. Fortunately, medical professionals specializing in mental health and brain function have developed alternatives such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for treating depression.

If you’ve stumbled upon TMS in your quest for effective depression treatment and are pondering, “Does TMS work better than medication?” then this blog by the Integrative Healthcare Center aims to address your query, comparing the benefits and limitations of TMS therapy with those of antidepressant medications, thereby assisting you in making an informed decision about your treatment alternatives.

Approaching TMS for Depression

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation has been available to the public since 1985, and physicians have utilized it for treating depression since 2008. Deep TMS involves a series of electromagnetic pulses to regulate neural activity in brain areas linked to mood and depression. As a treatment for depression, TMS is safe, painless, and non-invasive; it does not require anesthesia, and its side effects are generally mild.

In 2013, the FDA cleared deep TMS for treating Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). During deep TMS sessions, physicians place a padded helmet on the patient. This helmet houses patented H-coil technology, which allows them to directly stimulate deeper brain regions and cover more expansive areas of the brain with each pulse.

Understanding Therapy with Antidepressants 

Psychopharmacology has been the primary treatment for depression for many years. Since the mid-1950s, individuals with depressive disorders have had access to various medications. Frequently, physicians prescribe a form of antidepressant approved by the FDA to patients diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD).

The two most commonly prescribed families of antidepressants by physicians are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) due to their proven efficacy and safety.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs), on the other hand, are less frequently prescribed despite their effectiveness, primarily due to concerns about their tolerability.

The primary function of these drugs is to inhibit the reabsorption of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, thereby extending their effects. Serotonin and norepinephrine are two brain chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells. They are essential in regulating mood, sleep, appetite, and other aspects of brain function.

TMS Compared to Medication: A Look at the Side Effects

Both TMS therapy and medication for depression are safe and effective treatments. However, each has potential side effects that patients should consider.

Side Effects of TMS:

When considering TMS compared to medication, it’s important to note that TMS generally has milder side effects. As a non-invasive treatment, it avoids the complications and side effects associated with procedures that require anesthesia or introduce chemicals into the body.

Common side effects of TMS include headaches, scalp discomfort, dizziness, tingling, and occasional spasms, which usually dissipate minutes after the session concludes. With deep TMS, the side effects are even less pronounced. The most common side effect is a transient, localized headache. According to a National Library of Medicine study, stimulation with the new H-coils does not result in adverse physical or neurological outcomes.

Side Effects of Antidepressants:

Every individual reacts differently to medications. However, there are some commonly reported side effects across the three groups of antidepressants, which include:

  • Weight gain
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nausea
  • Skin rashes
  • Headaches and muscle aches
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased cardiovascular risk

The presence and severity of these side effects can vary significantly among individuals. For many, the occurrence of these side effects is a sufficient reason to discontinue the treatment.

TMS Vs. Antidepressants: Treatment Success Rates

The effectiveness of both TMS and medication can vary individually, but when combined, their efficacy often improves. For instance, deep TMS can be paired with any depression medication, leading to significantly higher remission rates compared to treating depression solely with medication, as corroborated by a study published in the National Library of Medicine.

Deep TMS: Laboratory Efficacy and Real-World Success

TMS compared to medication, has been shown to offer long-term relief of depressive symptoms and require less frequent maintenance treatments.

Deep TMS has proven effective in cases resistant to drug treatment and traditional therapy. A study conducted by World Psychiatry revealed that one in three patients with drug-resistant depression achieved remission after four weeks of deep TMS during the acute phase of treatment. During the continuation phase, approximately 80% of patients who did not respond immediately to the treatment experienced relief from their depressive symptoms.

Beyond its proven effectiveness in laboratory settings, deep TMS demonstrates an even higher success rate among real-world patients. Data gathered from more than 1,000 participants revealed that 75% responded clinically to deep TMS, and one in every two patients achieved remission.

Antidepressant Success Rates: Evaluating Efficacy and Tolerability

Given the existence of three types of antidepressants, it’s essential to examine their efficacy concerning each treatment’s tolerability.

  • SSRIs: SSRIs are an effective treatment for depression, a fact supported by the STAR*D study that the National Institute of Mental Health shared, which found that about one-third of participants achieved remission while taking the SSRI citalopram, and between 10-15% saw a reduction in symptom severity.
  • SNRIs: This other type of medication also proves to be an effective treatment for depression, with approximately 44% of patients achieving remission. Its higher level of tolerability encourages patients to continue treatment.
  • TCAs: TCA treatment has demonstrated significant effectiveness against depression. Some studies show its remission rate is 49%, making it roughly as effective as SNRIs. However, its higher incidence of severe side effects often leads many patients to discontinue treatment.

Individuals who tolerate antidepressants well may achieve long-term remission from depression, meaning their depression symptoms significantly decrease or disappear entirely. Those who achieve remission have a lower risk of relapsing into depression compared to those who only partially respond to treatment. Therefore, achieving remission is vital for reducing future bouts of depression.

Evaluating TMS Compared to Medication

When weighing the options of TMS compared to medication, it’s crucial to consult a medical or mental health professional to explore all available treatments thoroughly. In the comparison of TMS vs antidepressants, both methods can provide safe and effective alleviation of depressive symptoms. SSRI and SNRI medications, as well as psychotherapy, are typically considered first-line treatments for depression.

However, TMS can significantly improve individuals’ well-being as a less invasive and safe alternative. Patients can implement this treatment either as a stand-alone therapy or combined with other strategies, including medication or psychotherapy. For patients grappling with severe depression or those resistant to medication-based treatments, TMS could emerge as the optimal choice.

Integrative Healthcare Center: Offering TMS for Depression

Located in Nashua, New Hampshire, Integrative Healthcare Center provides a range of clinical treatments to alleviate depression, including TMS therapy. Our experts in depression treatment encourage patients to enhance their current treatments effectively and safely with TMS therapy for improved outcomes.

It is essential to seek guidance from medical and mental health professionals to make informed decisions, achieve remission from depression, and restore the ability to enjoy life. If you have further inquiries about TMS, please call us at (855) 599-9987 or contact us online.

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