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Using PEMF for Seizures

Disclaimer: Please note that these pages are for general information purposes only. The opinions and information have not been evaluated by the FDA.  They should not be considered complete in terms of the physical conditions discussed, or construed as healthcare advice.

A seizure is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. It can cause changes in your behavior, movements or feelings, and in levels of consciousness (awareness).  There are many types of seizures, which range in severity.  Seizures take on many different forms and have a beginning (prodrome and aura), middle (ictal) and end (post-ictal) stage.  As a seizure ends, some people recover immediately, while others may take minutes to hours to feel like their usual self. The recovery period is different depending on the type of seizure and what part of the brain was affected.  Because some seizures can lead to injury or be a sign of an underlying medical condition, and it is important to seek treatment if you experience them.

Interest in brain stimulation therapies has been rejuvenated over the last decade and has become an alternative treatment for many neurological disorders, including seizures and epilepsy (recurrent seizures).  In the treatment of intractable brain disorders like seizures, brain stimulation, especially transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) also known as electromagnetic frequency (EMF), is an attractive alternative as it is relatively safe, noninvasive and with few side effects.  Reviews of studies have found the risk of adverse events (problems) associated with TMS/EMF to be small, comparable to other types of treatment and not associated with long-term adverse outcomes. [1, 2, 3]

TMS/EMF is a non-invasive technique that uses the principle of electromagnetic induction to generate currents in the brain by exposure to pulsed magnetic fields.  Studies to define the cellular/molecular mechanisms underlying the magnetic control of seizure activity are finding changes in the development and propagation of activity.  These mechanisms include (but are not limited to)

(1) direct membrane polarization by the magnetic field,

(2) depolarization blockade by the deactivation of ion channels,

(3) alteration in synaptic transmission,

(4) interruption of ephaptic interaction and cellular synchronization.  All 4 of these mechanisms change the way a cell develops energy and the way the energy is used, leading to a decrease in seizure activity. [4]

(5) Suppression of the bursts of spike wave discharges (decreasing the development of seizure activity). [5]

(6) stimulating the inhibition of myoclonus (preventing the muscle spasm in seizures). [6]

(7) Decreasing the kindling acquisition as well as kindling-induced synaptic potentiation and decreasing spontaneous firing behavior and repetitive discharge. (decreasing the development of and repetition of seizure activity). [7,8]

As a result of the cellular changes with TMS/EMF, studies are measuring an overall decrease in seizure activity.  These findings are seen across many seizure types as well as types that have been difficult to manage with other treatment modalities, like medication resistant seizures, or seizures that come from more than one place in the brain (multi focal).  It has been reported that TMS/EMF improves the psychological condition of patients and it may also be more efficient than conventional treatment.  Repetitive transcranial magnetic/electromagnetic frequency stimulation may be an underused treatment option for status epilepticus.  Further studies are needed to help determine specific treatment protocols for the different types of seizures. [9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15]

Dr. Amanda Myers, MD, MSPH

MagnaWave Medical Director

  1. Schrader LM, Stern JM, Koski L, et al. Seizure incidence during single- and paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in individuals with epilepsy.  Clin Neuorphysiol. 2004 Dec;115(12):2728-37.

2. Bae EH, Schrader LM, Machii K, et al.  Safety and tolerability of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in patients with epilepsy: a review of the literature.  Epilepsy Behav. 2007 Jun;10(4):521-8. Epub 2007 May 9. 

3. Thordstein M, Constantinescu R.  Possibly lifesaving, noninvasive, EEG-guided neuromodulation in anesthesia-refractory partial status epilepticus.  Exp Neurol. 2013 Jul;245:87-95. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2012.10.010. Epub 2012 Oct 11.

4. Tan T, Xie J, Tong Z, Liu T, Chen X, Tian X.  Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation increases excitability of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons.  Brain Res. 2013 Jul 3;1520:23-35. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2013.04.053. Epub 2013 May 4.

5. Godlevsky LS, Kobolev EV, van Luijtelaar EL, et al.  Influence of transcranial magnetic stimulation on spike-wave discharges in a genetic model of absence epilepsy.  Indian J Exp Biol. 2006 Dec;44(12):949-54.

6. Lefaucheur JP.  Myoclonus and transcranial magnetic stimulation.  Neurophysiol Clin.  2006 Sep-Dec;36(5-6):293-7. Epub 2007 Jan 17.

7. Zohreh Ghotbedin, Mahyar Janahmadi, Javad Mirnajafi-Zadeh et al.  Electrical low frequency stimulation of the kindling site preserves the electrophysiological properties of the rat hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons from the destructive effects of amygdala kindling: the basis for a possible promising epilepsy therapy.  Brain Stimul. 2013 Jul;6(4):515-23. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2012.11.001. Epub 2012 Nov 19.

8. Yadollahpour A1, Firouzabadi SM1, Shahpari M2, Mirnajafi-Zadeh J3.  Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation decreases the kindling induced synaptic potentiation: Effects of frequency and cold shape. Epilepsy Res. 2014 Feb;108(2):190-201. doi: 10.1016/j.eplepsyres.2013.11.023. Epub 2013 Dec 5.

9. Fregni F, Thome-Souza S, Bermpohl F, et al.  Antiepileptic effects of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in patients with cortical malformations: an EEG and clinical study. Stereotact Funct Neurosurg. 2005;83(2-3):57-62. Epub 2005 Jun 30.

10. Lin CY1, Li K2, Franic L3, et al.  Frequency dependent effects of contralateral repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation on penicillin induced seizures.  Brain Res. 2014 Sep 18;1581:103-16. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2014.06.006. Epub 2014 Jun 14.

11. Liu A1, Pang T, Herman S, et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation for refractory focal status epilepticus in the intensive care unit.  Seizure. 2013 Dec;22(10):893-6. doi: 10.1016/j.seizure.2013.06.014. Epub 2013 Jul 19.

12. Fregni F, Otachi PT, Do Valle A, et al.  A randomized clinical trial of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation in patients with refractory epilepsy.  Ann Neurol. 2006 Oct;60(4):447-55.

13. Brighina F, Daniele O, Piazza A, et al. Hemispheric cerebellar rTMS to treat drug-resistant epilepsy: case reports.  Neurosci Lett. 2006 Apr 24;397(3):229-33. Epub 2006 Jan 19

14. Sun W, Mao W, Meng X, et al.  Low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of refractory partial epilepsy: a controlled clinical study.  Brain Stimul. 2012 Oct;5(4):655-6. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2011.10.006. Epub 2012 Feb 22.

15. Thordstein M, Constantinescu R.  Possibly lifesaving, noninvasive, EEG-guided neuromodulation in anesthesia-refractory partial status epilepticus.  Exp Neurol. 2013 Jul;245:87-95. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2012.10.010. Epub 2012 Oct 11.

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