Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive treatment that works by directing recurring magnetic energy pulses at specific areas of the brain that are involved in mood control. The magnetic pulses pass painlessly through the skull to stimulate brain cells which can improve communication between different parts of the brain. The result often has long-lasting effects on how the brain functions which can ease depression symptoms and improve mood.

The FDA approved the use of TMS to treat major depressive disorder in 2008. TMS is typically used when standard treatments such as therapy and medication prove to be ineffective. TMS therapy is done by a TMS technician or a TMS physician and is an outpatient procedure. During a TMS session, an electromagnetic coil is placed against the scalp near the forehead. The electromagnet painlessly delivers a magnetic pulse that stimulates nerve cells in the region of the brain involved in mood control and depression. 

These treatments will last between 30 to 60 minutes and patients are able to drive home after and immediately resume normal activities. The exact length of the treatment depends on the patient’s response, but typically the procedure is conducted five days a week for four to six weeks. Due to this treatment delivering repetitive magnetic pulses, it is also commonly referred to as repetitive TMS or rTMS. 

A new study conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine has found a new type of magnetic brain stimulation that brought rapid remission to 80% of participants with severe depression. This treatment is known as Stanford accelerated intelligent neuromodulation therapy (SAINT) and it is an intensive, individualized form of TMS.  

SAINT advanced the normal TMS treatment by targeting the magnetic pulses according to each patient’s neurocircuitry and providing a greater number of pulses at a faster pace. In the study, researchers used MRI to locate the best place to target each participant’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. From the imaging, they applied the stimulation to the part of the brain that is overactive in people experiencing depression. The researchers also used 1,800 pulses per session instead of 600. 

This study showed huge promise as the results were great remission rates, especially in patients who had failed multiple times with other treatments. The new approach is more precise and kicks in faster than older versions. This shorter treatment will increase access for a lot of people who cannot schedule six weeks off work. 

About the Author

Kimberly Sandberg Aloha Integrative Health
Kim Sandberg is the owner and founder of Aloha Integrative Health and a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. She has two advanced degrees: a Masters of Science in Nursing as a Nurse Anesthetist and a Doctor of Nursing Practice. She has worked in a variety of settings, though the biggest impact on Kim and her work came from her 28 years of service in the Navy Reserve.

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