Bipolar is fairly common, affecting nearly 3% of adults in the United States (about five million people), and also incredibly complex. In fact, diagnosing bipolar disorder is the first hurdle, while treating the mental illness poses further challenges as it’s more resistant than depression. So, when a new treatment comes along that proves successful, like ketamine infusion therapy, we’re understandably optimistic.
At the Institute for Advanced Psychiatry, our team of mental health experts, led by Dr. Diana Ghelber, has considerable experience helping patients with bipolar disorder. As part of our ongoing efforts, we stay abreast of the latest therapies so that we can help you or your loved one lead a happy and productive life.
Here, we take a look at one such therapy — ketamine infusion therapy — and how it can play a role in treating bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder at a glance
At its core, bipolar disorder leads to unusual mood shifts, often causing a person to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other (mania to depression). There are several types of bipolar disorder, including:
With bipolar I, you experience manic episodes that last for at least seven days or episodes that are so extreme that you require hospitalization. People with bipolar I also experience depressive episodes that can last two weeks or more.
You experience cycles of hypomanic and depressive episodes, but the hypomania falls short of the manic episodes with bipolar I.
If you have symptoms that don’t meet the diagnostic criteria for depression or hypomania, yet you still experience highs and lows (and the depressive symptoms last for two years or more), you may be dealing with cyclothymic disorder.
While the mania and hypomania associated with bipolar disorder can be dangerous, so, too, can the depressive episodes, which is where ketamine infusion therapy comes in.
Ketamine infusion therapy and bipolar disorder
Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is linked to high morbidity, mortality, and suicide rates, and it’s also proven to be treatment-resistant. Answering the call when it comes to treatment-resistant depressive episodes is ketamine, which is a drug that’s traditionally used as an anesthetic. The FDA recently approved the use of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression as it acts quickly and effectively in many patients.
The exact mechanism behind ketamine is unclear, but one study reports that it has “robust antidepressant and antisuicidal effects,” especially among those who develop structural changes in their brains because of prolonged bipolar depression. Researchers believe that ketamine works by causing the release of molecules in your brain that create new communication pathways between your neurons. This process is called synaptogenesis, which can improve how you’re able to regulate your moods.
Diving deeper into the findings, in a study of 42 patients with bipolar disorder, 52% responded favorably to a single ketamine infusion. In another small study, 27 patients were given ketamine for depressive symptoms and more than 48% responded within a week and 37% reported remission.
The results in these studies are mirrored at our practice as we’ve been able to quickly stop the downward spiral of depression through ketamine infusions. If you’d like to explore whether you or a loved one can benefit from this approach to bipolar disorder, contact one of our two locations in Granbury or Fort Worth, Texas.