TMS and MRI: Similarities and Differences

TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) is a therapy that is growing in popularity for the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder because of its high rate of success.  It’s a non-invasive therapy that uses strong magnets like those in an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to stimulate areas of the brain.  The two have a few similarities but major differences.

How They’re the Same

Both TMS and MRI machines use strong magnets, ones that are about 1,000-3,000 times stronger than that fridge magnet you brought home from your vacation to the Poconos.  They’re both non-invasive procedures and cannot be performed on people with any kinds of metal implants.  Basically, the similarities stop there.

How They’re Different

MRIs are used for diagnostic purposes, like x-rays.  TMS, on the other hand, is a treatment for depression.  While MRIs creates images of the whole body, the brain or other areas that are wider, TMS focused on a small, targeted area of the brain.

MRIs use their powerful magnets to uses magnets to create an image of the brain or other areas of the body. The magnets cause the protons that are usually facing random directions within our hydrogen atoms to all face the same direction. Next, the MRI machine emits a radio pulse that turns the protons to the side, and then they return to face the same direction again. The energy released by this movement is detected by the MRI’S sensors and a computer interprets the data into a static image.

There is another type of MRI called the fMRI (Functional MRI).  The imaging in an fMRI works the same as an MRI but the calculations performed by the computer are different.  They focus on oxygenated blood flow to determine activity in various areas of the brain.

TMS uses strong magnets in a coil that can better target a specific area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with mood regulation. The magnetic field produces tiny electric impulses in the treatment area that stimulate cells that produce neurotransmitters.  Depression can be caused when these neurotransmitters―serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine―don’t work as they should so things that should excite us or make us happy simply don’t anymore. By stimulating the neurotransmitters with magnets, they can be “jump-started” into working the way they should.

TMS is an alternative to drugs and is usually recommended when a patient has failed to find a successful relief from symptoms using antidepressants.  Side effects are rare and treatments last from approximately 20-40 minutes, 5 days a week for 4-6 weeks.  Because the patient remains awake and alert during the procedure, there is no downtime―the patient can go right back to work.

At Gateway TMS, we use the Neurostar TMS procedure and provide the treatments in a calming, relaxed atmosphere to ensure the comfort of our patients.  We focus on the health and wellbeing of every patient as they take steps to get relief from the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder and improve their mental health.  We’re one of the leading providers of TMS treatments for symptoms of Depression in the St. Louis area. Call us today at (314)909-8487 and find out if TMS is right for you.