how helpful health care clinics can be

3 Uses For Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

by Bonnie Gordon

TMS is a newer approach to understanding the brain and treating various conditions. Strong magnets are used to stimulate or suppress electrical current in specific areas of the brain. This unique, non-invasive approach has several uses. 

Mental Health Treatment 

Although there are various medicines that can be used to treat many types of mental illness, they are not always effective. One condition that can be difficult to treat is severe depression. Without effective treatment, people with severe depression may be incapable of taking care of their families or having a job. In many instances, depression can cause people to take their own life. TMS treatments are quick and might be done in a matter of minutes. Although treatments are quick, they must be done frequently, which is different than the more invasive electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT requires fewer treatments than TMS, but the patient must receive anesthesia for the procedure. For some people, TMS may be done after ECT if their suicide risk is extremely high and they need to be quickly stabilized.

Brain Mapping

Brain mapping is an intricate process of determining where various functions are located in the brain. This is typically done with surgery. The patient is anesthetized during the beginning of the procedure, which involves the removal of some of the skull to access the brain, although there may be instances when the patient is awake for the entire procedure. Once the brain is exposed, the patient is awakened, but anesthetized enough to not feel pain. The surgeon will gently touch specific areas of the brain with a surgical tool and see how the patient responds. They may also be asked to answer questions or recite a list of words during the process. This allows the surgeon to see where certain functions are located in the brain. TMS can be an alternative to an operation. Since TMS can be used to affect various brain regions, surgeons can map some of the brain without the operation.


TMS has been an excellent research tool since studying the brain is difficult. For example, researchers can learn more about conditions caused by stroke because they can mimic damage to the same area. One of these conditions is contralateral neglect, which occurs when certain regions of the brain are damaged, and patients no longer acknowledge (or neglect) half of themselves and half of the world. The condition is "contralateral" because the neglect occurs on the side opposite the brain lesion. Since this condition is uncommon among stroke patients, using TMS to recreate the condition is the best way to study treatment approaches.

TMS is a non-invasive way to treat mental illness when standard medications have failed. Research on the use of TMS may expand the diagnostic and treatment tools for many conditions.

Learn more about transcranial magnetic stimulation.