Healthy living

Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)

What is Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS)?

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is a new technique for treating major depressive disorders by stimulating the brain non-invasively through the scalp and skull.

How does it work?

In rTMS, a rapidly changing magnetic field passes through your scalp and skull and generates small electrical pulses in your brain. It causes neurons to fire, and increases the circulation of blood in your brain.

Clinical trials have shown that rTMS produces results comparable to ECT for major depression, but without the inconvenience and side-effects. Some of these trials were conducted at Graylands Health Campus in 2008 and 2009.

Because the trials were successful, rTMS is now offered by the public mental health system in Western Australia as a clinical service to patients who might benefit from it. rTMS services are currently managed by North Metropolitan Health Service Mental Health and are available in the Perth metropolitan area only.

How is it given?

rTMS is conducted in a specially equipped room while you sit in a comfortable chair, fully conscious with your head resting in a set position. An EEG cap is put on your head to monitor brain wave activity, and a rTMS stimulus coil is positioned so as to just touch your head.

The sensation of the magnetic field may cause a ‘ping’ on the skin of your scalp, similar to the sensation of a rubber band being flicked against your wrist.

Each rTMS treatment session should take about 20 minutes of actual stimulation five days per week, with a fortnightly review. Appointments are made at a time that is convenient to both you and the rTMS Therapy team at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital Mental Health Unit.

What are the risks?

  • Since the implementation of parameter and recruitment guidelines (1996) there have been, to the best of our knowledge, no confirmed instances of seizures during rTMS. In addition we will monitor your brain wave activity during the session to provide early warning of possible seizure activity.
  • There have been some instances where the EEG recorders on your head may feel warm or hot. This is usually due to poor application, and if you feel any discomfort, then we would be able to alleviate this if you let us know.
  • Some participants consider the clicking noise from rTMS uncomfortable.
  • Some participants develop a mild headache, believed to be due to scalp muscle tension. This can be easily relieved with relaxation exercises or over-the-counter headache tablets.
  • There are no guarantees that this treatment will be successful, and the treatment is not a long-term cure for the condition, so it may relapse in the future.

How can I access rTMS?

You will need to ask your mental health professional or GP for a referral.


  • North Metropolitan Health Service Mental Health Neurophysiology Service
    • Phone: 6383 1065

Where to get help


Neurophysiology Service

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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