Frequently Asked Questions

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)

rTMS treatment is relatively new in the UK and many people are just finding out about this non-invasive, medication-free treatment for depression. 

We’ve put together a page of answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Please feel free to browse our website for further information and send an enquiry if there’s something you’d like to know.

Questions & Answers

What is rTMS?

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is an MRI-strength magnetic pulse designed to stimulate the brain.

The magnetic beam is positioned in such a way as to target the area of the brain which is involved in the patient’s condition.

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) describes repeated applications of TMS over a period.

What is the science behind rTMS treatment?

The coil creates a magnetic pulse that targets the relevant area of the brain according to the medical condition.

The pulses comes in rapid succession and stimulate nerves to fire.

This reactivates neural pathways and the cumulative effect results in changes in the way the brain operates.

Is rTMS safe?

rTMS is a safe procedure with over two decades of intense clinical and scientific research behind it.

The most common side effects, in 5-10% of patients, were mild to moderate scalp discomfort and mild headaches, both of which usually went away in the first week of treatments.

The most significant side effect is the risk of a seizure: The rate of seizures is less than 1 in 30,000 sessions which is less than the risk of a seizure with many antidepressants.

Other even less common side effects are temporary and rapidly resolve.

The majority of patients do not experience any significant side effects.

Who should not consider rTMS treatment?

rTMS Therapy is a very well tolerated treatment and there are very few limitations as to who can receive it. However, not all patients are appropriate candidates for rTMS Therapy. Patients with a history of seizures or who have metal implants in their brain are not appropriate candidates for rTMS Therapy.

To determine if rTMS Therapy may be right for you, your supervising consultant will carefully screen for the presence of medical conditions or implanted metal objects.

What is the chance of a seizure occurring whilst being treated with rTMS?

Magnetically stimulating the brain can induce seizures.

The risk is about 1 in 30,000 sessions of treatment (which is similar to the risk of seizures from antidepressants).

To minimize this risk, patients will be screened for medical contraindications prior to commencing the treatment.

What side effects are there from rTMS Therapy?

In studies, less than 5% of patients treated with rTMS Therapy discontinued treatment due to side effects. We use a methodology which has resulted in none of our patients discontinuing rTMS due to side effects so far.

Side effects are generally mild 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
  • Twitching of scalp muscles
  • Light-headedness

If you experience a side-effect, alert your TMS technician and it may be appropriate to pause the treatment or reduce the strength of the magnetic field pulses being administered to make treatment more comfortable.

Is rTMS like ECT?

While both rTMS and Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) are effective in the treatment of depression, there are many differences in safety and tolerability. Both are designed to treat depression through the application of energy into the brain, but the similarities end there.

ECT is a more intensive and invasive procedure than is rTMS as ECT requires a general anaesthetic and is designed to stimulate a controlled convulsion. The main side effect from ECT is memory loss which does not occur with rTMS.

rTMS Treatment Centres

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation therapy treatment is available at an expanding network of Smart TMS locations around the UK and Ireland.

Smart TMS was the first UK clinic to offer treatments for anything other than depression.

On the basis of research, we believe that rTMS – Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation could offer sufferers of a range of different mental health conditions an alternative treatment option using transcranial magnetic stimulation to work directly on the associated areas of the brain. It would also offer the benefit of being a non-medication approach, avoiding potentially unpleasant side-effects associated with drugs.

To discuss this further, please contact us.