TMS therapy for children is a promising approach for treating neuropsychiatric conditions in kids. Neuropsychiatric conditions are disorders that affect both neurology and psychiatry.
TMS therapy uses magnetic fields to stimulate specific areas of the brain and help ease symptoms of disorders like ADHD, depression, and OCD in children. You must be wondering, how effective is it?
Well, let’s dive into the research and explore the effectiveness of TMS therapy in treating these conditions in children. By understanding the potential benefits and things to consider, we can make informed decisions to support children’s mental health and well-being. Let’s go!
Understanding How TMS Therapy Works
Of course, before we delve into the specifics of TMS therapy for children, it’s important to review TMS therapy in general.
TMS therapy, also known as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, is an interesting treatment option for mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and ADHD. It’s a non-invasive procedure that uses a special device with an electromagnetic coil.
During a TMS therapy session, they place a coil on the scalp, sending out short magnetic pulses. These pulses go through the skull and into specific parts of the brain. It’s pretty cool how they can target deeper areas of your brain, up to a couple of centimeters beneath the scalp!
The idea behind TMS therapy is to stimulate the areas of the brain responsible for regulating mood and emotions, especially the prefrontal cortex.
Increasing the activity of the nerve cells in that region and balancing neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine can help improve mood and alleviate symptoms of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder.
The best part is that the treatment is painless and requires no anesthesia or medications. For example, those undergoing TMS therapy don’t have to stay in the hospital. Sessions take around 20-40 minutes, a few times a week, for about a month or so.
That is unless we’re talking about advanced TMS. Those sessions only last for one week but involve multiple treatment sessions per day. The type of TMS treatment you choose is an individualized process you can discuss with your provider.
During the sessions, the patient is fully awake and can even do things like read a book or watch TV. It’s pretty convenient, right? And the cool thing about TMS therapy is that it has shown promising results, especially for people who haven’t found relief with other treatments or can’t tolerate medications. There is hope for relief.
So, if you’re struggling with depression or another mental health condition and you’re looking for a different approach, TMS therapy could be worth considering. It’s something worth discussing with your doctor to see if it might be a good fit for you.
TMS Therapy Application in Children
Now let’s discuss TMS therapy for children. For the most part, you’ll see TMS therapy advertised for adults ages 18 and over. This is because of the electromagnetic coil used in TMS treatment.
Many providers use a helmet instead of a coil, and that helmet only works on adults. But providers who use a coil can treat younger patients as long as they can collect the necessary data for proper treatment.
As it turns out, some children are good candidates for TMS therapy. It all depends on their age and whether the electromagnetic coil fits. Generally speaking, children younger than 11 aren’t ready for TMS therapy because their heads are too small, and the provider can’t collect the needed data.
If you aren’t sure whether a child’s head is big enough, you can take them to a TMS treatment center to see.
TMS for children is very effective when it’s used. There are a number of small trials and literature reviews that are a testament to that, but most of them are behind databases and journals with paywalls, making them difficult for most people to access. So let us dish out all the details, so you’ll know what you’re dealing with.
Did you know there are placebo trials for TMS for children, just like there are for many different health conditions and proposed treatments? However, most parents won’t pick that for their children because they want results.
They don’t want to risk receiving the placebo and not getting results, nor do they want their child to feel like an experiment. Most of all, they just want their child to feel better. A placebo trial doesn’t always equate to the fastest treatment or feeling better immediately, so this is understandable.
Some parents worry about the risks associated with TMS for children. However, this isn’t a big concern because a seizure is the only real adverse reaction. The chances of a seizure are very low — the risk is about the same as having a spontaneous seizure from an antidepressant you’re taking — it’s very, very low.
Having said that, we should note that, with both TMS therapy and antidepressant medications, the chances of a child having a seizure are slightly higher than in adults.
Simply put, TMS for children is a highly effective treatment with few side effects, making it an excellent option for children old enough for the electromagnetic coil to fit their heads so that data can be collected. The key is finding a provider with the right equipment that can fit on smaller heads.
Conditions Treated With TMS for Children
Many children — specifically adolescents — suffer from conditions like depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, or autism spectrum disorder, but they can’t express it the same way adults can. While older teens and adults can describe how they feel, children don’t have the vocabulary. That, or they don’t recognize what they are feeling.
Let’s look at each of these conditions and what they look like in children.
When it comes to anxiety in children, it’s important to know that it’s actually quite common. Just like adults, kids can also experience anxiety, which can show up differently.
Imagine a child who’s dealing with anxiety. They may often feel extremely worried or fearful about everyday things. It could be related to school, making friends, or even going to a new place. Sometimes, these worries can be so intense that they interfere with their daily activities or social interactions.
Physically, anxiety in children can cause things like vomiting, restlessness, trouble sleeping, or even complaints of stomachaches or headaches. They may have difficulty concentrating or constantly seek reassurance from parents or caregivers.
Sometimes, they might avoid situations that trigger their anxiety, like attending school or participating in activities with their peers.
It’s important to realize that anxiety can vary from child to child. Some may have specific fears or phobias, like being scared of dogs or the dark.
Others might have generalized anxiety, where they worry about many things without a clear reason. And in some cases, anxiety can be linked to other conditions, such as ADHD or autism.
As a friend, it’s essential to be supportive and understanding. Anxiety can impact a child’s well-being and self-esteem. Encouraging open communication and providing a safe and calm environment can make a big difference.
Remember, anxiety in children is treatable, and with the right support, they can learn to manage their fears and worries. Be patient, be there for them, and let them know you’re in their corner. They’ll appreciate it more than you know!
Depression in children is a mood disorder characterized by persistent sadness, irritability, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.
Children with depression may experience changes in sleep patterns and appetite and may exhibit withdrawal from social interactions.
They may also display signs of anger or irritability and have difficulty concentrating. In severe cases, depression in children can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
It is important to note that the symptoms of depression in children can vary and may not always be as apparent as they are in adults. Children may have difficulty understanding and expressing their feelings, making it challenging to recognize depression.
Many children with depression won’t say, “I have depression.” Instead, they might say, “I feel down” or “I feel sad.” So, again, if you’re hearing that or seeing that in a child, you’re likely witnessing depression.
An example of this would be a child who feels sick before going to school. They might throw up or have an upset stomach. But when summer comes, they are fine in the mornings. They have no sick symptoms. That’s because they no longer face the situation that was giving them anxiety.
So, if you think you’re noticing anxiety but aren’t sure, it’s a good idea to remove the child from the situation and see if that improves how they’re feeling.
If parents or caregivers notice any persistent changes in mood or behavior in their child, such as prolonged sadness, low energy, or changes in social interactions, it is important to seek professional help.
Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is characterized by difficulty staying focused, controlling impulsive behaviors, and regulating hyperactivity.
Controlling impulsive behaviors can take the form of speech, movement, action, or decision-making. Children with ADHD might talk more than normal, ask too many questions, or have trouble waiting for their turn to speak, resulting in lots of interruptions.
It can also really challenge them to filter their thoughts and regulate their speech.
Children with ADHD often show signs of inattention, forgetfulness, losing things, and having trouble completing tasks. They may also have difficulty with organization and time management, often resulting in missed deadlines and difficulty holding responsibilities.
On the other hand, hyperactivity and impulsivity may cause children with ADHD to fidget, squirm, or have trouble staying seated at school or during other activities.
It’s important to remember that while ADHD may present some challenges, children with ADHD can benefit from early diagnosis, medication, behavioral therapies, and other supportive strategies like TMS therapy.
With the right guidance and support, children with ADHD can learn to manage their symptoms and thrive in school and social settings.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Let’s discuss autism spectrum disorder now. Commonly referred to as ASD, it’s a neurological condition that affects how a child interacts with others, communicates their needs, and perceives the world around them.
Children with ASD may have difficulty with social interactions, such as making eye contact or engaging in conversation, and may prefer to play alone or have repetitive behaviors.
Those repetitive behaviors include motor, verbal, ritualistic, and informational behaviors. Motor behavior includes hand flapping, rocking back and forth, or spinning around in circles. Verbal behaviors include repeating words or phrases repeatedly, even if they don’t seem to serve a communicative purpose.
Ritualistic behaviors often cause autistic children to be very rigid and structured in their routines. They might line up their toys in precise order or become upset if their routine is disrupted. Informational behaviors include intense interest or preoccupation with certain topics.
Some children with ASD may also have sensitivity to stimuli like light, sound, or touch, which can cause distress. Being exposed to specific light sources like bright sunlight or flickering overhead lights can make it difficult for them to concentrate or participate in activities.
Children with ASD often have a heightened sensitivity to certain sounds like sudden noises, high-pitched sounds, or even everyday background noises.
Some children may become distressed and cover their ears when they hear certain sounds. This can make it difficult for them to participate in social activities or interact in noisy environments such as classrooms, auditoriums, or playgrounds.
For some children with ASD, certain types of touch can be overwhelming or uncomfortable. They may become distressed at textures, tags on clothing, hair brushing, or certain types of fabrics.
ASD can be a spectrum disorder, meaning the severity of symptoms may vary in each child. Some children may have mild symptoms, while others may be more severely impacted.
It’s important to note that each child with ASD is unique and may experience different challenges. While some children with ASD may have difficulty with communication and sensory processing, others may excel in specific areas like music, mathematics, or art.
It’s essential to support children with ASD by encouraging their strengths and being patient with their challenges.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Finally, there’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s essential to understand that OCD is a mental health condition characterized by obsessions and compulsions that can significantly impact a child’s daily life.
In OCD, children experience intrusive thoughts or images known as obsessions, which can lead to intense anxiety or distress. Obsessions can be about specific fears, such as germs, safety, or orderliness, and they can be persistent and difficult to control.
In an attempt to alleviate this anxiety, children with OCD develop repetitive behaviors or rituals, known as compulsions. These compulsions can involve excessive handwashing, repeatedly checking door locks, or arranging objects in a specific order.
OCD can become quite time-consuming, causing significant disruptions in a child’s daily routines, schoolwork, and relationships. It’s important to note that the severity of OCD symptoms can vary from mild to severe.
I want to emphasize that it’s crucial to approach OCD with understanding and support. Children with OCD often feel powerless and may be ashamed or embarrassed about their obsessions and compulsions. Providing them with reassurance and empathy is vital.
Now that we’ve covered what conditions TMS can be used to treat in children, let’s go back to discussing TMS, specifically the benefits for children, what they can expect during TMS therapy, and more.
Key Benefits of TMS for Children
One of the key benefits of TMS for children is that it’s non-invasive. Because no drugs are involved, the chances of a child becoming sick from TMS are next to none. The great part of TMS is how quickly it works, providing children with fast relief from their symptoms.
TMS for children differs from medication because they must remember to take the medication and deal with the side effects since medications aren’t as specific or targeted. Because TMS treatment is specific, targeted to specific brain areas, generalized side effects are eliminated.
What a Child Can Expect During TMS Therapy
Of course, children can have a harder time with discomfort, so it’s worth noting what to expect when they come to TMS therapy. Some children may handle TMS better than others, but it’s best to prepare for any situation.
Discomfort From the Coil
First, a child might experience discomfort where the coil sets and where it’s stimulating. This is because the coil’s stimulation causes a little muscle contraction and directly stimulates the nervous tissue below the skin. Once a child has completed five to 10 TMS treatments, it shouldn’t bother them anymore.
Keep in mind that it’s the head, not the brain, being stimulated, as our brains don’t have nerve endings. The nerve stimulation can cause your head to move and your eye to twitch. The eye-twitching part happens because the coil is set right above the periocular area.
These movements may be scary for a child to experience, so reassurance is imperative after treatment.
Second, a child might experience a mild headache because so much of the head is being stimulated. The headaches usually last for the first five to 10 treatments. That could mean a day or two if the child receives accelerated TMS treatment or up to a week if they are doing traditional TMS.
As with most headaches, TMS-induced headaches can be treated with over-the-counter medications to provide relief. No one wants a headache that lasts for a long time!
To further aid your child with headaches, encourage them to rest and ensure they are drinking plenty of water.
Third, drowsiness is a common symptom children experience when receiving TMS treatment. This drowsiness can hit during the TMS session and last for one to two hours afterward. Of course, an 11- to 14-year-old child won’t be driving yet, so getting home isn’t a concern. But it is something to be aware of.
How Long Does a TMS Session Last?
TMS for children lasts as long as it would for an adult with most of the same caveats.
How long the session lasts entirely depends on what the child is being treated for and where they’re receiving treatment.
At most advanced facilities, depression treatment takes about four minutes. However, it can last up to 36 minutes. It all depends on the patient and what they need. For anxiety, most sessions last 15 to 30 minutes. Anxiety treatments are a little bit gentler and generally tolerated well.
ADHD usually takes 10 to 20 minutes. For autism, specific symptoms are treated, so time frames vary.
The Strength of the Treatment
The major difference between adults and children receiving TMS isn’t in how long the session lasts but in how intense the treatment is. When a TMS session begins, single pulses are sent through the electromagnetic pulse.
How a child’s body reacts to that pulse determines the strength of the treatment. It’s usually much lower in children than it is for adults, making it much more tolerable for children.
Have More Questions? Contact Brain Health Center.
We’ve covered a lot in this blog, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have more questions! If you’re considering TMS therapy for your child, look no further than Brain Health Center.
We offer TMS for children using the electromagnetic coil discussed in this blog. Our providers are experts in administering TMS for children, so you can rest assured that they’re in good hands.
TMS for children is an innovative approach that can make a world of difference for a child suffering from a mental health condition or neurological disorder like autism. Let’s work together to make your child’s world a better place to be!