Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, uses magnetic fields to noninvasively stimulate the brain. This can help improve symptoms of various conditions by activating certain brain regions. TMS is used primarily to treat depression and other mood disorders, but it may also be helpful for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year. In this article we take a look at how TMS may be useful for people with PD, the evidence so far on the benefits of this treatment and possible side effects.
What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?
Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a noninvasive procedure that uses a device placed on the outside of the head to send a pulsed electromagnetically generated field into the brain. The transcranial magnetic stimulation device generates a changing magnetic field. This field passes easily through the skin, skull and scalp, but the changing electromagnetic field induces electrical currents in the brain. These currents travel short distances and then dissipate. However, the currents that do get through to the other side of the brain are strong enough to activate brain cells.
Sometimes shortened to TMS, this procedure uses a magnet placed above your forehead to stimulate brain activity and reduce the symptoms of depression or another mental illness. It may also help ease the motor, speech and swallowing problems associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD).
In a TMS session, an electromagnetic coil is placed on your head and activated for approximately 20 minutes. The magnetic field stimulates nerve cells in the targeted area of your brain. There are generally no adverse effects from TMS treatment.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder characterized by a decline in the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure, reward, and enjoyment. Many symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as muscle rigidity, tremor, and difficulty with balance, are caused by the low levels of dopamine. This disorder can dramatically decrease a person’s quality of life and make it difficult for them to engage in everyday tasks and even take care of themselves. While there is no cure for this condition, there are treatments that can mitigate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
How Does TMS Help with Parkinson’s Disease?
We don’t know for sure how this treatment benefits Parkinson’s disease, but the evidence shows that it does work. Theories abound and there is a lot of ongoing research. The most common theory is that the stimulation augments the firing of neurons in the dentate gyrus, a part of the brain associated with learning and memory. The theory goes that increasing the firing of these neurons would help increase the release of dopamine in the striatum (the primary area affected by Parkinson’s disease).
TMS may also improve neurotransmitter function by stimulating growth factors. There is also a possibility that the electromagnetic fields used to generate the TMS may induce mild edema (swelling) in the brain, which may help increase blood flow and the amount of neurotransmitters released. There is also some evidence that TMS may change the way the brain reacts to dopamine replacement therapies, meaning that people may require a lower dose to see the same level of benefit.
Who Might Benefit from TMS for Parkinson’s Disease?
TMS is still an experimental treatment and so we don’t have a full understanding of who will benefit from it. Based on what we currently know, people with PD that have not responded to or are not interested in deep brain stimulation or dopamine replacement therapies may benefit from TMS. People with high levels of anxiety, depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) may also benefit from TMS, as TMS is a powerful treatment for these mental health conditions as well.
Final words: Should you try TMS for Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic illness that progresses over time. There are currently no cures and treatments are aimed at managing the symptoms. As such, when possible, it’s usually best to try whatever treatment is most likely to work. While TMS is a promising treatment for PD, more research is needed to know for certain whether it works and under what circumstances it’s appropriate. If you are interested in trying TMS, make sure you speak with a qualified health professional, such as a staff member at Lucid Wellness Center in Los Angeles, CA. Click here to contact us today.