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.