Bipolar disorder is a condition characterized by swings in a person’s mood. These mood swings can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months. If you have this mental -health condition, you swing between depression and mania. Depression features low mood and decreased energy and motivation. Mania involves high energy levels, racing thoughts, agitation, and delusions.
Standard treatment for bipolar disorder may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for the depression
- Antidepressants for the depression
- Mood stabilizers or antipsychotics for the mania
But traditional treatments don’t work for everyone.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) offers hope. Evidence now shows that TMS for bipolar is effective.
TMS Therapy: A Brief Overview
TMS is a quick—18 to 19 minutes per session—and non-invasive treatment. During a TMS treatment session, which is outpatient, a technician will place a small device on your head. This device contains electromagnetic coils. They send regular, mild magnetic impulses into the brain. The procedure is painless, with very few side effects. Some patients may experience a mild headache or discomfort at the treatment site, although this passes quickly.
TMS therapy is effective at treating a range of mental health disorders. This is because the magnetic stimulation brings the brain back to a normal level of activity. Studies have highlighted that TMS can ease major depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. The FDA has approved TMS for depression and OCD, and researchers have discovered that it’s effective for bipolar depression.
TMS for Bipolar Depression: The Research
- A 2018 Study
This study looked at 43 patients with treatment-resistant bipolar depression. Researchers applied 20 sessions of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) or sham TMS in a double-blind, randomized controlled trial.
Bipolar depression features a range of cognitive deficits. The researchers wanted to see if cognition would improve following TMS treatment. The results showed that all cognitive domains improved, including:
- Attention and processing speed
- Inhibitory control
- Immediate verbal memory
- Long-term verbal memory
- Working memory and executive function
Depressive symptoms also improved. Evidence highlights that rTMS can reduce the symptoms of depression.
- A 2011 study
Researchers treated bipolar patients with deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS). This involved targeting deep areas of the brain with magnetic stimulation. Researchers found that dTMS was more effective than sham TMS at relieving patients of their symptoms.
- A 2016 report
This study described bipolar disorder patients who had successful remission of their symptoms after TMS.
- A 2017 meta-analysis
This study showed that bipolar patients respond well to rTMS as maintenance therapy.
- A small observational study from 2013
This study showed that TMS could help some bipolar disorder patients achieve full remission. These were patients who didn’t have relief from any other treatments, including electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
There are fewer studies on TMS as a treatment for bipolar compared to other conditions, but the evidence is growing. Many patients with bipolar disorder find that TMS offers significant, long-lasting relief.
How TMS Helps with Bipolar Disorder
Research revealed that the amygdala changes if you have bipolar depression. Researchers compared bipolar patients to patients with unipolar depression. For bipolar patients, the left side of the brain is less active. It’s also less connected to other brain regions than in people with unipolar depression. The amygdala is a key brain structure for processing your emotions.
A study using MRI scans also sheds light on the brain regions affected in bipolar patients. For example, in adult patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there is less thickness in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC). This brain region plays a crucial role in memory, language, and motor control. Separate research found that patients with bipolar disorder had changes in the cerebellum. This brain region handles voluntary movements like speech, coordination, balance, and posture. Studies over the past two decades also show that the cerebellum plays an important role in cognitive and emotional processes.
TMS can treat bipolar depression by targeting these affected brain regions. It works by correcting abnormalities in your brain. Magnetic stimulation brings brain cells back to a normal level of activity. This helps those regions of your brain to function well and communicate with each other like they’re supposed to.
HPR Treatment Centers offers TMS therapy at locations across the U.S. While we don’t yet offer TMS for bipolar disorder, we administer it to hundreds of people every day for depression. Treating your depressive symptoms may help ease your bipolar disorder overall.
TMS combined with mental health self-care can be especially effective. This might involve medication, seeing a therapist, and adopting a healthy lifestyle. With this kind of approach, patients with bipolar depression often find that they can function well and live happy, fulfilling lives.