Close to 6 million American adults live with bipolar disorder. The condition produces periods of frantic energy and optimism along with corresponding episodes of deep depression. The depressive episodes can be especially dangerous because the risk of suicide is high. Finding a treatment that can offer relief in a timely fashion is vitally important.
Standard Treatments Take Time
Unfortunately, the standard treatments currently given to bipolar patients to help with depression all take some time before the effects are felt. Whether the person takes antidepressants, undergoes ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) or TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) the treatment may take several weeks. That can be a long time for patients experiencing thoughts of suicide.
A New Twist on an Old Approach
A recent study, however, offers hope that quicker relief may be possible. A treatment called low-field magnetic stimulation (LFMS) is similar to TMS and ECT in that it is based on stimulating the brain with bursts of electricity, but the new treatment reverses the approach of those treatments. The older therapies utilize high-strength, low-frequency stimulation while LFMS pairs low-strength with high-frequency. Researchers say that the discovery of the approach was accidental, but initial testing has yielded positive results.
LFMS Provides Faster Relief
All of the 63 patients in the study had been formally diagnosed as having bipolar disorder or major depression. Some of the participants received 20 minutes of LFMS treatment and some participants were given a placebo treatment. Researchers were unaware of which patients had received which treatment. Still, when outcomes were examined, it was found that the participants who had received 20 minutes of LFMS therapy showed rapid mood improvement – much more rapid than is seen after standard treatment.
Further Study Needed
Although LFMS therapy will require further testing, initial findings are encouraging for people dealing with debilitating depression. Suicide attempts are not uncommon for people with bipolar disorder or clinical depression. Being able to offer those patients a fast-acting treatment could be life-saving.
Bipolar disorder can appear at any age, but the onset of symptoms usually occurs during early adulthood – around age 25. And while bipolar disorder affects both men and women, depressive episodes appear more frequently among women with the condition. The study appeared in the professional periodical Biological Psychiatry.