Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation as a Treatment for Chronic Tinnitus: A Critical Review

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Abstract

Objective

Because chronic tinnitus is a condition that negatively impacts the quality of life for millions of people worldwide, a safe and effective treatment for tinnitus has been sought for decades. However, a true “cure” for the most common causes of tinnitus remains elusive. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a noninvasive procedure, has shown potential for reducing patients’ perception or severity of tinnitus. This article provides background information about rTMS and reviews studies that investigated rTMS as a treatment for chronic tinnitus.

Data Sources

PubMed and Medline databases (National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine) were searched for the terms repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, tinnitus, TMS, and rTMS in articles published from 1980 to 2012.

Study Selection

Articles included in this review were selected to represent a sampling of rTMS methodologies that have been used with tinnitus patients.

Data Extraction

Data extraction included sample size, TMS stimulation frequency, TMS stimulation intensity, number of pulses administered per session, number of TMS sessions, and method of tinnitus assessment.

Data Synthesis

Because of the heterogeneity of the studies reviewed, most of which had small populations of subjects, it was not appropriate to perform a meta-analysis. A systematic review of the literature was conducted to summarize and critique published research results.

Conclusion

Although optimism for the clinical use of rTMS as an effective treatment for tinnitus remains high among many researchers, clinicians, and patients, several key questions and procedural issues remain unresolved. Suggestions for improving rTMS research protocols are described and discussed.

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