New Type of Brain Stimulation Could Shorten Treatment Time for Bipolar Disorder

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Key Takeaways

  • Magnetic stimulation can help people with bipolar disorder, a new clinical trial says

  • The therapy involves short, powerful bursts of magnetic energy delivered to specific regions of the brain

  • Patients had a significant drop in their depression symptoms related to bipolar disorder

THURSDAY, July 11, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- Powerful magnetic stimulation can help treat people with bipolar disorder, according to results from a small trial.

The therapy, called accelerated intermittent theta burst stimulation, involves magnetic waves delivered to specific regions of the brain using an electromagnetic coil placed against the scalp.

This form of transcranial magnetic stimulation has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat major depressive disorder, researchers noted.

Now, this new study involving 24 depressed patients with treatment-resistant bipolar disorder has shown that the therapy also can ease bipolar symptoms.

The magnetic therapy “offers a new potential therapy for depressed patients with bipolar disorder who may not respond well to drugs or cannot tolerate their side effects while also significantly shortening the treatment window,” said Dr. Yvette Sheline, director of the Center for Neuromodulation in Depression and Stress at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

People with bipolar disorder swing between severe depression and manic episodes marked by symptoms like uncontrollable racing thoughts, restlessness or feelings or euphoria, researchers said in background notes.

Current treatments for bipolar include mood-stabilizing drugs like lithium and talk therapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation uses a magnetic field to send an electric current to a targeted brain area, researchers said. It’s thought that the stimulation alters brain wave patterns, leading to decreased depression symptoms.

For this study, the bipolar patients were randomly assigned to receive either real or sham magnetic therapy, with neither the patients nor the study team knowing who received active treatment.

The therapy was delivered for five days with 10 sessions per day, once an hour.

The average depression score in the group that received magnetic stimulation fell from 30 to 11, on a scale running from zero to 60, results show.

Those who received sham treatment showed little improvement, with a score of 28 before therapy and 25 after.

“This means that those who received active treatment had a substantial decrease in their depression symptoms compared to those who received sham stimulation,” the researchers said in a university news release.

The results need to be replicated in larger studies involving more people, Sheline said.

The new study was published July 10 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

More information

The Mayo Clinic has more about transcranial magnetic stimulation.

SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, news release, July 10, 2024

What This Means For You

People with depression or bipolar disorder should ask their doctor if transcranial magnetic stimulation could help them.

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