3 On Your Side Investigates: TMS offers depression breakthrough - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

3 On Your Side Investigates: TMS offers depression breakthrough

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
MEMPHIS, TN (Mississippi News Now) -

Tourists come from around the world to sing the blues in Memphis, but for thousands of Southerners like Elizabeth, feeling blue is a trip they've been on for years.

"I don't think I've been off anti-depressants since the late 80s," says Elizabeth, who asked to keep her identity hidden. "Prozac, Flexa, Lexapro, Effexor, Zoloft, Zimbalta."

"Depression is one of the most crippling illnesses in the world," says Dr. Valerie Agustus, a Memphis Psychiatrist.

Dr. Agustus says there is new hope for Elizabeth and others who are clinically depressed. Its a non-invasive procedure called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS, and it uses magnets.

"Just like you would in an MRI machine, same technology," says Dr. Agustus. "And you're applying that magnet to a very specific portion of the brain."

No anesthesia is necessary. Patients sit comfortably while electromagnetic signals stimulate the release of chemicals in the brain that affect mood.

The effects can last months or even years. 

"I remember waking up and feeling good," Elizabeth says. "And things are good and everything's going to be alright."

One of the major benefits is that patients feel good enough to lower their dosage of anti-depressants.. or stop taking them altogether. 

"It has the potential to minimize the amount of medication that people are taking," Dr. Agustus adds.

The most common side effect is occasional headaches.

But don't try this at home. Doctors warn that experimenting with magnets, especially strong magnets, won't produce the same results. And it can be dangerous.

"That's really not safe. Because you don't know the dose, you don't know how long you should leave it on. And you can actually be harming yourself," Dr. Agustus says.

TMS costs around $10,000.

Dr. Augustus says as of last year, most major insurance companies now cover the treatment, giving her the chance to make a big difference. 

"When you hear patients start telling you how, 'I was here and all of a sudden I'm going out and socializing, I'm now able to be more physical and exercise, I'm able to go out and enjoy life more', that's the whole reason you treat patients," she says.

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