2 The condition, current treatments and procedure

2 The condition, current treatments and procedure

The condition

2.1 Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health condition in which a person has obsessive thoughts (repeated, unwanted and unpleasant thoughts, images or urges). The person feels compelled to carry out compulsive (repetitive) behaviours to try to relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thoughts.

Current treatments

2.2 NICE's clinical guideline on obsessive-compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder describes the treatment of the disorder. Treatment options include psychological interventions and drug treatment (typically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

The procedure

2.3 Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is done with the patient awake and sitting in a comfortable chair. The operator places an electromagnetic coil over a specific region of the head. The coil delivers electromagnetic pulses through the skull that stimulate neurons (brain cells) by inducing small electrical currents within the brain. Different areas of the brain may be targeted, and a variety of stimulation protocols may be used. Treatment with TMS usually comprises daily sessions lasting about 30 minutes, for a few weeks. The aim is to reduce the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

2.4 In repetitive TMS (rTMS), repetitive pulses of electromagnetic energy are delivered at various frequencies (low or high) or stimulus intensities. The intensity of stimulation is usually titrated against the minimum intensity needed to elicit a motor response when stimulating the motor cortex, known as the motor threshold. Determining the motor threshold for rTMS can be done visually (such as by observing targeted hand muscle movements) or by using electromyography.

2.5 Conventional rTMS is repeated individual pulses at a pre-set interval (train of pulses), and theta-burst rTMS is repeated short bursts of pulses at a pre-set interval (train of bursts). Deep TMS stimulates deeper and broader brain regions compared with conventional rTMS.

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)