Medication and psychotherapy are currently the primary treatments for bipolar disorder, but some patients have symptoms that are treatment-resistant. In an effort to broaden the treatment possibilities for patients with bipolar disorder, researchers have studied the effectiveness of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to minimize symptoms and maximize quality of life. Results so far look promising. Here’s a deeper look into this potentially revolutionary treatment for bipolar disorder:

What is transcranial magnetic stimulation?

TMS is a non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain that are associated with mood control and depression. During a procedure that lasts about 20-40 minutes, an electromagnetic coil is placed against the scalp near the forehead, and the electromagnet delivers a repetitive, painless magnetic pulse, activating regions of the brain that have decreased inactivity due to depression. TMS is already FDA approved for treating depression, and while the biology of why TMS works isn’t completely understood, the positive results are clear.

Does TMS cure bipolar disorder?

For now, there is no cure for bipolar disorder, just a range of treatments with varying effectiveness, depending on the individual. However, research has shown that patients who suffer from bipolar disorder have benefited from repetitive TMS therapy, especially when initial treatment is followed by maintenance therapy. In this scenario, initial treatment of TMS occurs a few times a week and is then tapered down to once a week. Eventually, treatment continues on a “maintenance” schedule of once every few weeks or months. Maintenance therapy is crucial to preventing relapse or remission, and it is particularly effective for patients who are resistant to traditional treatments.

What are the side effects of TMS for depression?

Common side effects for TMS include

  • headache
  • scalp discomfort
  • tingling or twitching facial muscles, and lightheadedness.
  • Serious side effects, which can include seizures or hearing loss, are very rare.

Compared to the side effects associated with antidepressant medications, such as weight gain, fatigue, constipation, anxiety, and loss of libido, the overall risks of TMS are minimal. 

How else can TMS improve outcomes?

Because of the unique nature of bipolar disorder, which involves alternating periods of depression and mania, patients benefit most with a combination of treatments. By relieving symptoms of depression, TMS makes it easier for patients to experience the maximum benefits of accompanying treatments like psychotherapy. Additionally, TMS may actually increase the effectiveness of bipolar medications.

Who is a good candidate for TMS?

Patients with bipolar disorder will need both a physical exam and psychiatric evaluation to determine whether TMS is a safe and viable option. Some complicating factors might include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Implanted medical devices (stents, stimulators, pacemakers, cochlear implants, etc.)
  • Any other metal device or object in the body (bullet fragments, etc.)
  • Prescription or over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, or certain vitamins
  • History of seizures
  • Other mental health disorders, including substance abuse
  • Brain damage from illness or injury
  • Frequent or severe headaches
  • Other medical conditions

While such factors do not immediately exclude patients from TMS treatment, your doctor will need a comprehensive view of your overall health to ensure you’re a good candidate for TMS.

TMS treatment in San Diego

If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and traditional treatments are not working for you, Pacific Health Systems in San Diego offers high-quality, cost-effective mental health services, including TMS treatment. To learn more about TMS and other alternative therapies, call us at (619) 267-9257.