Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is the least invasive of the brain-stimulation procedures used for depression. Unlike vagus nerve stimulation or deep brain stimulation, TMS doesn't require surgery or implantation of electrodes. And, unlike electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), it doesn't cause seizures or require complete sedation with anesthesia. However, TMS does have some risks and can cause some side effects.

Common side effects

TMS often causes minor short-term side effects. These side effects are generally mild and typically improve after the first week or two of treatment. They can include:

  • Headache
  • Scalp discomfort at the site of stimulation
  • Tingling, spasms or twitching of facial muscles
  • Lightheadedness
  • Discomfort from noise during treatment

Uncommon side effects

Serious side effects are rare. They can include:

  • Seizures
  • Mania, particularly in people with bipolar disorder
  • Hearing loss due to inadequate ear protection during treatment

More study is needed to determine whether TMS may have any long-term side effects.

Nov. 20, 2012