People with schizophrenia typically experience auditory hallucinations or delusions during acute episodes. Although effective drug treatments are available, many have intractable symptoms that do not recover between acute episodes. One proposed alternative to drug treatments is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). To date, many research trials to assess effectiveness of TMS for people with symptoms of schizophrenia have been conducted worldwide. However, there is a lack of consensus on whether TMS should be recommended to be adopted in routine clinical practice. We conducted a systematic review of the literature for all relevant randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing TMS with sham or standard treatment. Forty-one trials (1473 participants) survived eligibility criteria and had extractable data. We found significant differences in favor of temporoparietal TMS compared with sham TMS for global state (7 RCTs, n = 224, MD: -0.5, 95% CI: -0.76 to -0.23) and for positive symptoms measured on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (5 RCTs, n = 127, MD: -6.09, 95% CI: -10.95 to -1.22). However, we also found that the quality of trial reporting was frequently suboptimal and the risks of bias were strong or unascertainable for many trial aspects; this led to many results being graded as very low-quality evidence. On that basis, we were unable to definitively support or refute the routine use of TMS in clinical practice. Future definitive trials of TMS with rigorous processes and high-quality reporting are needed.
Keywords: auditory hallucinations; schizophrenia; transcranial magnetic stimulation.
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