Intranasal Ketamine for Bipolar Disorder

November 29, 2017 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

nasal sprayAn in-press article due out in January 2018 by Demitri F. Papolos and colleagues in the Journal of Affective Disorders reports that intranasal ketamine delivered every three to four days reduced symptoms of bipolar disorder in 45 teens (aged 16 years on average). The teens treated in one private practice had the ‘fear-of-harm’ subtype, which in addition to bipolar symptoms is characterized by treatment resistance, separation anxiety, aggressive obsessions, disordered sleep, and poor temperature regulation.

The repeated administration of ketamine produced long-lasting positive results, improving bipolar symptoms as well as social function and academic performance. Many participants reported via survey that they were much or very much improved after being treated for durations ranging from 3 months to 6.5 years. Side effects were minimal and included sensory problems, urination problems, torso acne, dizziness, and wobbly gait.

The ketamine was delivered to alternating nostrils via 0.1 ml sprays that included 50–200 mg/ml of ketamine in 0.01% benzalkonium chloride. Patients were instructed to increase the dosage just up until it became intolerable and then repeat the last tolerable dose every three to four days. Final doses ranged from 20–360 mg. The mean dose was 165 mg (plus or minus 75 mg) delivered every 3 days.

Papolos and colleagues called for placebo-controlled clinical trials based on the positive results from this open study.

Inflammation Predicts Poor Response to Sleep Deprivation with Light Therapy

November 20, 2017 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

midday bright light therapy

A 2017 article by Francesco Benedetti and colleagues in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports that people with bipolar depression who have higher levels of certain inflammatory markers may have a poor antidepressant response to the combination of sleep deprivation and light therapy, compared to those with lower levels of inflammation.

The study included 37 participants with bipolar disorder who were in the midst of a major depressive episode. Of those, 31 participants (84%) had a history of poor response to antidepressant medication. The patients were treated with three cycles of total sleep deprivation and light therapy within one week, a combination that can often bring about a rapid improvement in depression.

Depression improved in a total of 23 patients (62%) following the therapy. Blood analysis showed that compared to those who had a good response, the non-responders had higher levels of five intercorrelated inflammatory markers: IL-8, MCP-1, IFN-gamma, IL-6, and TNF-alpha. Those with higher body mass index had more inflammation, indirectly decreasing response to the therapy.

Midday Bright Light Therapy Improved Bipolar Depression

November 15, 2017 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

light therapy

A study by Dorothy S. Kit and colleagues published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2017 found that delivering bright white light therapy to patients with bipolar depression between the hours of noon and 2:30pm improved their depression compared to delivering inactive dim light, and did not cause mood switches into mania. The study included 46 patients with moderate bipolar depression, no hypomania and no psychosis.

The active therapy group was exposed to broad-spectrum bright white fluorescent light at 7,000 Lux while the inactive group received dim red light at 50 Lux. Both groups were instructed to sit 12 inches from the light and face it without looking directly at it. The therapy began with 15-minute afternoon sessions and increased to 60 minutes per day by 4 weeks. Participants were assessed weekly. Remission rates increased dramatically in the active group beginning in the fourth week. At weeks 4 through 6, the remission rate for those in the active bright light group was 68.2% compared to only 22.2% in the dim light group.

Mean depression scores were better in the treated group, as were global functioning and response rates.

Some participants were taking antidepressants concurrently, and these participants were evenly distributed across the two study groups.

An earlier pilot study by the same researchers had found that bright light therapy delivered in the morning was followed by some hypomanic reactions or bipolar cycling. The midday sessions did not cause any mood switching.

Bright light therapy is often used to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) using a 10,000 Lux light box. This study took place mostly during the fall and winter months.

Editor’s Note: Bright light therapy is generally safe and boasts a high remission rate. Light boxes can be acquired without a prescription and are portable and easy to use. Midday light may have the best results and the least risk of provoking a mood switch into mania.

Making Lithium Treatment More Tolerable For Patients

November 9, 2017 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

taking lithiumIn a slideshow at Psychiatric Times, Chris Aiken describes seven ways to improve lithium’s tolerability.  Since many researchers, including BNN Editor-in-Chief Robert M. Post, have suggested that lithium should be used more often as a treatment for bipolar disorder, ways of making its side effects more manageable are of great interest. Here we summarize Dr. Aiken’s seven points and add a few perspectives of our own.

Aiken writes that “when it comes to the side effects that matter most to patients—sedation, weight gain, and cognition—lithium’s tolerability ranks right behind lamotrigine.”  In fact, lithium plus lamotrigine is an excellent combination, as lithium excels at preventing manias while lamotrigine excels at depression prevention.

Post’s philosophy is that many of lithium’s side effects can be avoided in the first place through judicious dose titration. He suggests gradually increasing dosage, and stopping before side effects become difficult, or reducing a dosage that has already become a problem. The idea is to avoid lithium side effects even if blood levels of lithium remain below clinically therapeutic levels. Post suggests using lithium at whatever dose is not associated with side effects.

Many of lithium’s positive therapeutic effects emerge at low doses, and if this improvement is insufficient, the rest of the needed efficacy can be achieved by adding other medications. As noted above, lamotrigine is a good option for break-through depression, as is lurasidone. For breakthrough mania, the mood stabilizers valproate and carbamazepine or an atypical antipsychotic can be added to lithium.

A little-appreciated option for enhancing lithium’s mood stabilizing effects is nimodipine, a dihydropyridine calcium blocker. It has both antimanic and antidepressant efficacy without lithium’s side effects. Research showed that a year on the combination of lithium and nimodipine was more effective than a year of either drug alone.

If a patient taking lithium experiences a tremor at a dose that is not fully effective, nimodipine can be added in order to lower the lithium dose enough to eliminate the tremor.
Nimodipine specifically blocks the calcium influx gene CACNA1C that has been repeatedly been associated with the vulnerability to bipolar disorder and depression.

If side effects do occur on lithium, they can often be managed. The following suggestions are adapted from Aiken’s article with input from Post. Read more

The New News About Lithium

November 7, 2017 · Posted in Current Treatments, Peer-Reviewed Published Data · Comment 

lithium

Robert M. Post, Editor-in-Chief of the BNN, recently published an open access article in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, “The New News About Lithium: An Underutilized Treatment in the United States.” Here we summarize the main points of the publication, including: the multiple benefits of lithium, its relative safety, predictors of lithium responsiveness, and principles for treatment.

Benefits of lithium

Lithium prevents both depressions and manias in bipolar disorder, and also prevents depressions in unipolar disorder and can augment antidepressant effects acutely. In addition to these mood benefits, lithium has anti-suicide effects. Lithium also enhances the efficacy of atypical antipsychotics and other mood stabilizers when used in combination with them.

Lithium is good for the brain. It has been shown to reduce the incidence of dementia. Lithium increases the volume of the hippocampus and cortex, and can increase the production of new neurons and glia. It also protects neurons. In animals, lithium has been shown to reduce lesion size in neurological syndromes that are models for human disorders such as AIDS-related neurotoxicity, ischemic/hemorrhagic stroke, traumatic brain/spinal cord injury, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), fragile X syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, retinal degeneration, multiple sclerosis, alcohol-induced degeneration, Down’s syndrome, spinocerebellar ataxia-1, and irradiation.

Lithium’s benefits include more general ones as well. It can increase the length of telomeres, bits of DNA on the ends of chromosomes that protect them during replication. Short telomeres have been linked to various illnesses and the aging process. Lithium also decreases the incidence of several medical illnesses and enhances survival.

Side Effects Are Often Benign, Treatable

Lithium side effects are more benign than many people think. Even low levels of lithium may be therapeutically sufficient. Read more

Deep TMS May Improve Treatment-Resistant Bipolar Depression

October 2, 2017 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

deep tmsDeep transcranial magnetic stimulation (dTMS) is a non-invasive treatment that has been shown to be effective in unipolar depression. It consists of a helmet fitted to the head, which uses magnetic coils to create an electric field in a desired brain region.

A 2017 double-blind randomized study by Diego F. Taveres and colleagues in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology found that 20 sessions of dTMS targeting the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex produced greater improvement in bipolar depression over 4 weeks of treatment than the same number of sham sessions in which participants wore a helmet that delivered similar sounds and scalp sensations without the electrical effects to the brain. The participants had treatment-resistant bipolar depression that was being treated with medication.

However, dTMS’ effects were not significantly different from those of the sham over four additional weeks of follow-up, nor were remission rates significantly different across the two groups. Out of 50 participants, seven dropped out of the study—two from the sham group, and five from the active dTMS group. But there were no occasions on which a participant switched into mania following treatment.

This study suggests that dTMS has the potential to more rapidly improve treatment-resistant bipolar depression as well as unipolar depression.

Brain Scans Differentiate Suicidal from Non-Suicidal Patients with Bipolar Disorder

September 29, 2017 · Posted in Brain Imaging · Comment 

brainPeople with bipolar disorder are at high risk for suicidal behavior beginning in adolescence and young adulthood. A 2017 study by Jennifer A. Y. Johnston and colleagues in the American Journal of Psychiatry uses several brain-scanning techniques to identify neurobiological features associated with suicidal behavior in people with bipolar disorder compared to people with bipolar disorder who have never attempted suicide. Clarifying which neural systems are involved in suicidal behavior may allow for better prevention efforts.

The study included 26 participants who had attempted suicide and 42 who had not. Johnston and colleagues used structural, diffusion tensor, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques to identify differences in the brains of attempters and non-attempters.

Compared to those who had never attempted suicide, those who had exhibited reductions in gray matter volume in the orbitofrontal cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum. They also had reduced white matter integrity in the uncinate fasciculus, ventral frontal, and right cerebellum regions. In addition, attempters had reduced functional connectivity between the amygdala and the left ventral and right rostral prefrontal cortex. Better right rostral prefrontal connectivity was associated with less suicidal ideation, while better connectivity of the left ventral prefrontal area was linked to less lethal suicide attempts.

Offspring of Bipolar Parents Have More Psychiatric Illness

September 22, 2017 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

family with boyA 2017 study from the Czech Republic found that children and adolescents with at least one parent with bipolar disorder had much higher lifetime rates of mood and anxiety disorders than their peers who did not have a parent with bipolar disorder. The offspring of bipolar parents also had lower quality of life, less social support, poorer self-perception, poorer relationships with their peers and parents, and more difficult home lives than those whose parents did not have bipolar disorder.

The study by Michal Goetz and colleagues in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology reported that 86% of the children of bipolar parents would be diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder in their lifetime. Similarly, David Axelson and colleagues from the Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2015 that 74.2% of children with a parent with bipolar disorder would receive a lifetime psychiatric diagnosis, and a 2006 study by Myrna M. Weissman in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that the offspring of a unipolar depressed parent were three times more likely to have a psychiatric illness than offspring of nondepressed parents over 20 years of follow-up. Another study by this editor (Robert M. Post) and colleagues in the Bipolar Collaborative Network published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2016 found that a third of children at high risk due to a parent’s bipolar diagnosis would go on to have a psychiatric illness.

The Goetz study included a total of 86 participants between the ages of 7 and 18. Half had a parent with bipolar disorder and half did not. One limitation of the study was its recruitment procedure. Parents with bipolar disorder who enrolled their children in the study may have done so out of concern for their offspring’s mental health, increasing illness rates in the group with bipolar parents. Researchers were also aware of parents’ diagnoses, which may have affected their ratings of the young people’s symptoms. Despite these limitations, the study and its predecessors still suggest that psychiatric illness in a parent puts children at very high risk for a psychiatric illness themselves and can affect their wellbeing in a variety of ways.

Goetz and colleagues suggest that there is a need for proactive and complex care of families with psychiatric illness. They suggest that good communication is needed between adult and youth psychiatric services, with physicians who treat adults with bipolar disorder inquiring about those patients’ children and referring them to specialized psychiatric services for youth.

Editor’s Note: I not only endorse the conclusions of Goetz and colleagues, but would further recommend that parents with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or unipolar depression discuss their children’s mood and behavior with their own psychiatrists and the children’s primary care physicians.

Parents of children aged 2 to 12 may enroll in our own Child Network, a secure online portal where they can record weekly ratings of their children’s symptoms and share these with their physicians.

There are many effective psychotherapeutic interventions for children with anxiety and mood disorders that should be sought for a child with symptoms that impair his or her functioning. Two evidence-based treatments are Family Focused Therapy, which incorporates family members into treatment so that they better understand the illness and can be supportive of the affected child, and cognitive behavioral therapy, in which negative patterns of thoughts and behaviors are challenged and patients are taught more effective problem-solving skills. When childhood psychiatric illness is recognized and treated appropriately, the results are often excellent, and it is possible that heading off the illness early may even prevent the development of more severe illness later in the child’s life.

Untreated Episodes of Bipolar Disorder Worsen Over Time, But Prevention is Possible

September 18, 2017 · Posted in Course of Illness · Comment 

Pensive man

A 2017 literature review by researcher Lars V. Kessing and Per K. Andersen in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica reports that the greater a patient’s number of previous episodes of bipolar disorder, the more likely that patient is to have a more difficult course of illness and poorer outcomes. The number of episodes was associated with more rapid recurrences, duration and severity of episodes, more automatic episodes (i.e. not triggered by stress), risk of dementia, treatment resistance, lack of recovery between episodes, and brain volume losses.

In an article in the journal Bipolar Disorders in 2016, BNN Editor-in-Chief Robert M. Post described the value of preventive treatment in reducing episodes and protecting the brain from the damage that accompanies them.

Given that episodes, stressors, and bouts of substance abuse can affect the way genes are transcribed via a phenomenon known as epigenetics, preventing these occurrences could lead to an easier course of illness and improved outcomes. Patients should provide their physicians with feedback about their response to prior medications and any side effects they experience over time so that their medication regime can be adjusted until it is maximally effective.

Patients with severe illness and multiple previous episodes may need a complex medication regimen that includes multiple types of medications that target different systems of neurotransmitters.

This philosophy of treatment is presented in several publications, including the 2008 book Treatment of Bipolar Illness: A Casebook for Clinicians and Patients by Post and Gabrielle Leverich, and more recently in the article “Treatment of Bipolar Depression: Evolving Recommendations” in the journal Psychiatric Clinics of North America. An open access article by Post, “New Perspectives on the Course and Treatment of Bipolar Disorders,” published in the journal Edizioni Minerva Medica S.p.A. in 2017, describes the need for early and sometimes complex combination therapy, including the non-intuitive idea that more medications (carefully prescribed) can actually produce fewer side effects than large doses of a single medication.

Another good resource for patients is a daily personal calendar that can be used to track ongoing symptoms, side effects, and response to medications. We offer several types of these calendars free here. My Mood Monitor, or What’s My M3, is a validated screening instrument that can detect depression, anxiety disorders, and mania in response to weekly self-reports. It is available online and as an app, and can be used to track illness course and response to treatment.

Short Telomeres Associated with Family Risk of Bipolar Disorder

September 13, 2017 · Posted in Genetics, Risk Factors · Comment 

telomeres

Telomeres are bits of genetic material at the end of each strand of DNA that protect chromosomes as they replicate. Short telomeres have been linked to aging and a variety of medical and psychiatric diseases. Stress and depressive episodes can shorten telomeres, while treatment with lithium can lengthen them.

Telomere length is a heritable trait, and a 2017 study by researcher Timothy R. Powell and colleagues suggests that shorter telomeres are a familial risk factor for bipolar disorder.

The study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, compared the telomere lengths of 63 people with bipolar disorder, 74 of their immediate relatives (49 of whom had no lifetime psychiatric illness, while the other 25 had a different mood disorder), and 80 unrelated people with no psychiatric illness. The well relatives of the people with bipolar disorder had shorter telomeres than the unrelated healthy volunteers.

Relatives (both well and not) and people with bipolar disorder who were not being treated with lithium both had shorter telomeres than people with bipolar disorder who were being treated with lithium.

Another finding was that longer telomeres were linked to greater volume of the left and right hippocampus, and improved verbal memory on a test of delayed recall. This study provides more evidence that taking lithium increases the volume of the hippocampus and has neuroprotective benefits for people with bipolar disorder.

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