The frustrating and often debilitating symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD) are known to many patients across the globe. This prevalent, anxiety-based mental health condition can damage an individual’s well-being and cause them constant stress. As a result, patients battling this disorder are willing to try different types of therapy in an effort to feel better. One such patient, named Antonella, recounts her own journey toward greater mental health. She discusses what made her choose a specific treatment option among the available OCD treatment centers and how transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy helped her achieve symptom relief.
Antonella describes her obsessive-compulsive disorder as a central, yet elusive part of her life from very early on.
“I didn’t know what it was at first, because I was very young,” she says. “I was noticing that I was washing my hands excessively, I was walking through doorways consistently until it felt just right.”
This “just right” way of thinking is a common obsessive theme. It includes repetitive, intrusive, and adverse thoughts that have to do with a feeling of disquiet anytime objects are out of their designated place or order. A patient experiencing what Antonella is describing could spend hours rearranging the dishes in their kitchen cabinets, organizing their closet, or straightening items on their mantle until they are perfectly aligned. Any attained sense of accomplishment is normally outweighed by the frustration and even sheer exhaustion that individuals are left feeling due to time spent pursuing an ultimately unattainable ideal.
Cases of OCD often involve more than one source of anxiety. Based on research, patients battling OCD commonly develop obsessive thoughts concerning one or more of the following themes:
The complexity of Antonella’s condition is further elucidated by Dr. Ryan Vidrine, her treating physician at TMS Health Solutions. Vidrine describes the personal and interpersonal limitations that Antonella’s OCD had imposed on her, in an apparent connection to cleanliness-based anxiety.
“When I first met her, she wouldn’t touch doorknobs, she wouldn’t shake my hand, she hadn’t hugged family members in quite some time. Pretty much everything in the environment scared her.”
Antonella echoes this sentiment, by addressing how she would previously prefer to dodge stressful situations, in an effort to save herself the mental anguish. “I was just avoiding everything,” she recounts. “And that’s not a way to live.”
Vidrine describes OCD as “one of those disorders that can be very serious and severe, and people around not necessarily know.” He goes on to describe how, in Antonella’s case, her outward appearance did not match what she was experiencing internally.
“It’s hard to capture just how severe her OCD was. She probably came off as cold and reserved to people.”
Vidrine’s point ties in with the avoidance that Antonella had described. The American Psychological Association (APA) similarly acknowledges the negative social effects OCD can induce. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s fifth edition (DSM-V), the APA describes how many patients will choose to avoid social interactions altogether, thereby stunting their own personal development.
Antonella states that her OCD symptoms caused her to “hit a really, really low point in my life. And that’s when I called up TMS Health Solutions.”
At first, Antonella decided to go down a more familiar road, via a number of prescribed medications. Unfortunately, this form of therapy did not offer her the relief she was searching for.
“I think I’ve tried five to six different kinds of medications, and all of them have given me terrible side effects,” she recalls, citing a major obstacle that many patients experience with psychopharmacology.
First-line OCD treatments include a goal-focused form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and a family of medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). While both have been FDA-approved due to their safety and efficacy, patients sometimes struggle with SSRIs’ side effects, which can include weight gain and sexual dysfunction. As a result, many discontinue this treatment.
Finding the medications prescribed for her to be too adverse, Antonella chose to give TMS Health Solutions a try. The mental health center offers an integrative approach, providing evidence-based psychotherapy, medication treatment, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) – an innovative medical device treatment option that has been FDA-cleared to treat OCD.
TMS is a non-invasive treatment option that utilizes electromagnetic pulses to safely regulate the neural activity of brain structures found to be related to different mental health conditions. It is safe to combine with other forms of treatment, such as medication, and has been shown to increase the overall efficacy of a combined treatment course. TMS does not require anesthesia, does not cause long-lasting or significant side effects, and can be incorporated into the patient’s daily schedule.
TMS Health Solutions Chief Medical Officer Dr. Richard Bermudes elaborates on the benefits of TMS treatment for OCD.
“TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, is basically a non-medication approach in which we deliver a high-powered magnetic field to different areas of the brain. We can increase their activity or decrease their activity where we know OCD or depression or these illnesses that sort of ‘live.’ It’s a lot more localized and targeted than, say, a medication that sort of causes changes everywhere.” He adds that the symptom relief provided by this treatment constitutes “a big step forward.”
There are currently two types of TMS on the market: Deep TMS and traditional TMS.
Deep TMS. The first non-invasive medical device treatment to be FDA-cleared to treat OCD. Available since 2018, Deep TMS uses its own patented H-Coil technology, which manages to safely reach and regulate wider areas of the brain. It is also able to directly regulate the neural activity of structures located deep within the brain, thereby increasing its efficacy. In addition to OCD, Deep TMS has been FDA-cleared to treat major depressive disorder (MDD) and smoking cessation. It remains the only non-invasive medical device to be FDA-cleared with clinically proven outcome data to treat OCD. You can find your nearest OCD treatment center here.
Traditional TMS. Traditional TMS uses a handheld device to focus its electromagnetic fields on different areas of the brain. Due to the narrower range of pulses sent out through its apparatus, traditional TMS can at times suffer from targeting issues, and as a result miss the reaching the relevant brain structure. To avoid this, neuronavigation equipment is sometimes incorporated into traditional TMS’s treatment process. TMS has yet to be cleared by the FDA to treat OCD.
Treating patients for OCD symptoms often involves invoking the anxiety they routinely experience, by introducing triggering stimuli into the therapy session. As Dr. Vidrine explains it, “particular with TMS for OCD treatment, we’re even asking patients to sort of recall their symptoms and kind of trigger their symptoms, so that we can trigger that part of the brain where those symptoms ‘live.’”
Though triggering their own anxiety can be daunting to patients, doing so within a safe and contained therapeutic setting can ease some of their apprehension.
“Patients (normally) have that experience of being triggered throughout the day. To have that experience of being triggered in the (treatment) chair and overcoming that helps them overcome that quicker in their own life,” adds Vidrine.
After fighting for a better quality of life for years, facing personal and interpersonal obstacles and continuing to search for a solution, Antonella finally began to experience symptom relief.
“I came in one day, and all of a sudden I just shook Dr. Vidrine’s hand. I broke down into tears. I was just really proud of myself. But I was also really happy to see that this technology was working.”
Antonella describes the vitality and peace of mind that are now part of her life.
“Nowadays, I wake up, I feel refreshed. I’m happy to go to work. I’m happy to shake hands. I am going to concerts. I am pushing myself to do all these things.
The benefits she received from her Deep TMS made her want to suggest this treatment to others battling OCD.
“I highly recommend the BrainsWay treatment. It has given me my life back.”