Risks

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a noninvasive form of brain stimulation used for depression. Unlike vagus nerve stimulation or deep brain stimulation, rTMS does not require surgery or implantation of electrodes. And, unlike electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), rTMS doesn't cause seizures or require sedation with anesthesia.

Generally, rTMS is considered safe and well-tolerated. However, it can cause some side effects.

Common side effects

Side effects are generally mild to moderate and improve shortly after an individual session and decrease over time with additional sessions. They may include:

  • Headache
  • Scalp discomfort at the site of stimulation
  • Tingling, spasms or twitching of facial muscles
  • Lightheadedness

Uncommon side effects

Serious side effects are rare. They may include:

  • Seizures
  • Mania, particularly in people with bipolar disorder
  • Hearing loss if there is inadequate ear protection during treatment

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

Dec. 03, 2015
References
  1. Brain stimulation therapies. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/brain-stimulation-therapies/brain-stimulation-therapies.shtml. Accessed Sept. 21, 2015.
  2. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www2.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=About_Treatments_and_Supports&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=164338. Accessed Sept. 21, 2015.
  3. Holtzheimer PE. Unipolar depression in adults: Treatment with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Sept. 21, 2015.
  4. Janicak PG, et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of major depression. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2015;11:1549.
  5. Research report: Psychiatry and psychology, 2014-2015. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayo.edu/pmts/mc0700-mc0799/mc0710-11.pdf. Accessed Sept. 22, 2015.
  6. AskMayoExpert. Transcranial magnetic stimulation. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2014.
  7. Wall C, et al. Neurocognitive effects of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in adolescents with major depressive disorder. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2013;4:165.
  8. Kung S (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 29, 2015.
  9. Croarkin PE (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 26, 2015.