Can Transcranial Electrical Stimulation Localize Brain Function?

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While it is hard to hear and even harder to accept, a large proportion of the U.S. population is struggling with mental illness. And this is not a baseless conjectural statement; it is a reality substantiated by several credible studies, one of which comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In that study, researchers revealed that more than 31% of U.S. adults struggle with anxiety.

A separate study from the same organization revealed 8.4% struggle with “major” depressive episodes. And it does not end there; many people simultaneously struggle with anxiety and depression, which is not an uncommon phenomenon, according to a study published by the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center in Rochester, Minnesota.

To cope with anxiety, depression, or both, many people turn to an array of pharmaceutical drugs, the vast majority of which can cause side effects that are arguably worse than the mental illness they’re supposed to treat. But there are other options, one being transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

What Is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

Initially developed in 1985, transcranial magnetic stimulation is a noninvasive treatment that uses a magnetic field to influence brain activity. And it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat treatment-resistant depression, including major depressive episodes, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and migraines. It is also an FDA-approved smoking cessation treatment. Some studies suggest it may even be effective in treating social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, and other anxiety disorders. When someone receives a TMS treatment, magnetic fields stimulate nerve cells in the brain, which, in turn, combats feelings of depression, anxiety, and other brain-related conditions.

Transcranial Electrical Stimulation

How Does TMS Work?

Now that we have a general understanding of TMS and how it is, for some people, a viable treatment for depression, anxiety, and other brain-related conditions, let’s delve deeper into how these treatments work. There are five steps involved in TMS treatments, and they include

  1. Removing jewelry and other metals – Because TMS uses magnetic energy, individuals must remove jewelry, eyeglasses, and anything else that contains metal.
  2. Inserting earplugs – Once individuals have taken off their jewelry and other metals, a TMS practitioner will provide them with earplugs or over-the-ear, noise-canceling headphones to wear. And this is important since the magnetic coil used to carry out TMS treatments can get loud enough to trigger hearing loss.
  3. Putting on a magnet-containing helmet – Once an individual has removed their jewelry and has hearing protection in or over their ears, a TMS practitioner will place a magnet-containing helmet or another magnet-containing device on top of their head.
  4. Single-pulse stimulations – Most TMS practitioners will administer single-pulse stimulations on an individual’s head, which helps them determine the ideal location and settings for their treatment. During single-pulse stimulations, most individuals report experiencing tapping sensations from the TMS magnet as the practitioner gradually increases the strength of the magnetic pulses.
  5. Pulse stimulation with specific timing or pattern – At this point, the TMS practitioner has already identified an ideal pulse strength and has moved on to having the TMS magnet deliver pulses using a specific timing or pattern. These pulses, which are more deliberate, activate cells in the brain. That activation of cells helps ramp up the production of serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters in the brain that help combat depression and other brain-related conditions. All told, TMS treatment sessions with a licensed practitioner can last anywhere from a few minutes to about half an hour.

Can Transcranial Electrical Stimulation Localize Brain Function?

Something to note when it comes to transcranial magnetic stimulation is that it is often confused with transcranial electrical stimulation (TES). And that confusion further extends to which of the two can localize brain function. Before detailing which one can, let’s take a moment to discuss what it means to localize brain function. In short, the localization of brain function means certain parts of the brain are associated with certain behaviors and mental processes.

For example, the amygdala is responsible for emotion and emotional response, and the hippocampus is responsible for memory. That said, some people wonder whether it is TMS or TES that can be applied to specific brain areas to alter behaviors, mental processes, or both. According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), TES treatments are the ones that can help in this regard.

TES and TMS can help combat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other brain-related conditions. However, TES is the treatment protocol that allows practitioners to target specific areas of an individual’s brain to alter behavior or mental processes. In short, TES uses constant or alternating currents to modulate brain activity.

And it entails applying low-intensity currents through scalp electrodes, which produce electrical fields that target specific parts of the brain.In summary, TMS and, to some extent, TES can be viable options for treating mental illnesses and many other conditions if traditional treatments prove ineffective. To learn more about TES and TMS for brain function, consider contacting Mind Body Optimization, a premier addiction and mental health treatment facility in Franklin, Tennessee.