How is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) performed?

The transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) procedure is conducted in an office setting. A person undergoing TMS sits in a chair resembling a recliner while a largeelectromagnet is precisely positioned over his or her head to emit targeted electromagnetic pulses. While the person's head is gently secured in place, he or she is fully awake during the 45-minute sessions and is able to read, converse, watch videos or listen to music. The therapy is conducted five days a week over four to six weeks. Says Ian Cook, MD, director of the UCLA Depression Research and Clinic Program, "Some people like to take a nap. Others like to meditate. All they really experience is the sensation of a tapping on the scalp from the magnetic field, even though nothing is mechanically tapping there."
Because it is an outpatient procedure, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) does not require surgery, hospitalization or anesthesia. The doctor places a hand-held tool against the patient's scalp. Short magnetic pulses focus on a specific area of the brain known to regulate mood. Research has indicated that to be most effective, TMS should be applied five days each week for four to five weeks. Each session lasts 40 minutes.

Clinical psychiatrist and TMS specialist Dr. Tarique Perera explains how transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is performed. Watch Dr. Perera's video for tips and information on mental health and well-being.

A person receiving TMS is awake and no anesthesia is required. The patient sits comfortably in a chair for approximately 30 minutes, during which time a magnetic coil is placed on the head in a specifically targeted region – the prefrontal cortex. The patient will feel a tapping on the head and will hear a clicking noise. The treatment is noninvasive.

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