Depression Medication vs TMS Therapy: The Facts You Need to Know

Feb 9, 2021

If you’re struggling with depression, then you know how difficult finding the right treatment option can be.

One common symptom of depression is having difficulty making decisions. And, choices about your treatment plan can be especially challenging.

Should you take depression medication? Is talk therapy the right option for you? What about Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS?

If you’ve found yourself overwhelmed by questions like these, you’re in the right place. Here, we will cover the benefits of medication vs TMS therapy.

At Brain Center TMS, we are committed to helping patients like you. Together, we will work towards your health and mental well-being. Keep reading to learn more about the best treatment options available to you.

An Overview of Depression Medication

Over 264 million people struggle with depression today. Individuals with depression experience a wide range of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Unexplained muscle aches or recurrent headaches
  • Difficulty with focusing and making decisions
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Unintentional weight changes
  • Lethargy
  • Changes in sleeping patterns

The good news is that depression is treatable. Studies have shown that most people who receive effective treatment do recover from depression.

One of the most common first-line treatment options for depression involves depression medication. So, let’s take a look at the main categories of these drugs:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs came on the market about 30 years ago. Today, they are the most common form of depression medication.

Your brain produces a chemical messenger called serotonin. This chemical sends messages to different nerve cells in your body. It helps regulate mood, appetite, and even your sleep schedule!

SSRIs keep more serotonin available to your brain. With more serotonin floating around, you may experience positive mood changes.

Some of the most common SSRIs on the market include: Lexapro, Zoloft, Celexa, and Prozac.

Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs are newer than SSRIs, but they work in a similar way. SNRIs work by making two chemical messengers more available to your brain.

Like serotonin, norepinephrine is an important chemical for brain health. It functions to promote alertness and energy. Having more norepinephrine can help you feel more awake and motivated.

There are many SNRIs available today. A few of the most common SNRIs include: Cymbalta, Effexor, and Strattera.

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

TCAs were first introduced in the 1950s. These drugs can treat depression, bipolar disorder, and sleeping disorders like insomnia.

Like SNRIs, TCAs keep more serotonin and norepinephrine available. But these medications can cause more severe side effects.

A few of the most prescribed TCAs include: Protriptyline, Doxepin, and Norpramin.

Many people have had good experiences with depression medications. However, these drugs often cause uncomfortable side effects. People with depression might find these effects difficult to handle.

Other individuals might prefer treatment options that do not involve medication. Fortunately, there are other treatments out there. If medication isn’t right for you, you might consider TMS therapy for depression.

What is TMS Therapy?

TMS therapy involves stimulating different parts of the brain during a non-invasive procedure. During TMS, magnetic stimulators are placed on a patient’s scalp.

The stimulators then send short magnetic pulses through the brain. Clinicians control the number and intensity of pulses. That way, TMS therapy can be customized for the needs of each individual.

Studies have shown that TMS therapy can reduce depression. TMS causes small changes in neurons, the cells that send electrical signals in our brain.

TMS therapy can increase or decrease the transmission of these brain signals, helping balance neurochemistry in the brain. These changes in brain chemistry can have a positive impact on depression.

Using TMS for depression takes up to six weeks for most patients. During the therapy, patients sit in a comfortable and relaxed position, receiving virtually painless magnetic stimulation.

Risks of Depression Medications

Depression medications come with a number of risks. TCAs have the most side effects of the three categories.

The most serious TCA side effects include irregular heart rates and disorientation in older individuals. Some of the less severe side effects of TCAs include:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Tremors
  • Issues with sexual performance
  • Sudden changes in blood pressure
  • Constipation
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea

Although SSRIs also cause side effects, these typically go away within a few weeks. One of the most troublesome SSRI side effects is weight gain. This can be especially pronounced for users of Lexapro.

More common SSRI side effects include:

  • Upset stomach
  • Appetite changes
  • Dry mouth
  • Sleeping changes
  • Agitation or anxiety
  • Erectile dysfunction

SNRIs have similar side effects to SSRIs. But the side effects experienced with SNRIs are less severe.

The most common SNRI side effects include nausea, excessive sweating, and headaches. SNRI users may also experience side effects like:

  • Headaches
  • Appetite loss
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Reduced sexual desire

Clearly, antidepressant medications can carry significant risks. Although they may improve depression symptoms, the side effects can be overwhelming.

Next, let’s take a look at the side effects associated with TMS.

TMS Therapy Side Effects

Because TMS is a non-invasive procedure, it has relatively few side effects. Some individuals may experience slight discomfort during the procedure.

But this discomfort only occurs near the site of therapy. It also resolves in a short time period.

TMS patients may rarely experience some jaw pain or a slight headache. But, these side effects go away shortly after treatment.

Unlike depression medications, TMS therapy is not associated with risks like weight gain, memory loss, or changes in sexual desire.

There are certain patients who should not undergo TMS therapy for safety reasons, however. For example, people who have a metal implant inside their skull would not be eligible for TMS.

In general, patients with implanted electronic medical devices should avoid TMS. But for most individuals suffering from depression, the risks of TMS are mild at most.

Effectiveness of Medication vs TMS

Recent studies have confirmed that antidepressants are effective against Major Depressive Disorder. But the effectiveness varies according to the drug and the individual.

A 2018 study published on The Lancet reviewed 21 drugs across 522 depression medication trials. This study revealed that certain depression medications are most effective with the least side effects. These drugs include:

  • Escitalopram
  • Sertraline
  • Agomelatine
  • Paroxetine

All 21 medications worked better than the placebos studied. TCA drugs were discontinued most often because of their severe side effects.

The effectiveness of TMS therapy has not been studied as much as that of depression medications. But one 2015 study showed promising results.

The researchers in this study show that TMS therapy seems as effective as antidepressants. They also note that TMS therapy may be an attractive option for patients who cannot tolerate side effects of medication.

More studies are needed to examine TMS effectiveness. Long-term studies of TMS therapy will provide more data in the future.

For now, FDA approval of TMS therapies is an excellent sign. As we continue to practice this therapy, we will learn more about other benefits of this novel technique.

Finding the Best Option for You

Although science has advanced enormously in the past century, we still know very little about how the human brain works. And no two brains are the same.

To find a treatment that works best for your brain takes time. If you have experienced negative side effects with antidepressants, you might be looking for an alternative.

Based on studies like those mentioned above, we do know that both depression medication and TMS therapy work. Both alternatives have relieved the symptoms of depression for many patients.

SSRI and SNRI drugs are typically offered along with talk therapy as a standard treatment plan for depression. For some patients, this approach relieves or eliminates their depression symptoms.

But certain patients experience severe depression that doesn’t respond to common treatments. These individuals could experience further emotional distress when a standard treatment plan fails to yield results.

If this situation sounds familiar to you, it might be time to try something new.

Taking the Next Steps Toward Your Health

If you’re seeking a treatment plan tailored to your unique needs, Brain Center TMS is here for you! Our top-of-the-line facility features the latest in TMS technology.

Our team of clinicians and patient advocates is committed to finding effective brain healing solutions for all of our clients. We would be happy to help you weigh the benefits of medication vs TMS.

When you’re ready to go over treatment options, get in touch! We can schedule a free consultation at a time that works for you.

Here at Brain Center TMS, we are committed to helping all of our clients on their unique journey to a healthier, happier life.

Considering TMS Treatment? Schedule a Consultation!

Tired of the results you’re getting from your standard treatment? Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation may be able to increase your chances of long-term remission, reducing your symptoms and allowing you to live a more joyful life.

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