Home / Acupuncture and Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental condition that inhibits the normal life of the affected person. The psychiatric diagnostic category was first known as manic depression before getting the name bipolar disorder. The condition is characterized by wild mood swings that take the patient from a hyper state to depression. The two states are known as manic and clinical depression. Between the two phases, the patient goes through abnormal changes in energy, mood, activity level, and the drive to carry on with typical daily activities.

Statistics for Bipolar disorder

According to Merikangas KR et al., 2007, about 2% of the world’s population is afflicted by bipolar disorder. This is coupled with another 2% of world population which is affected by one or the other subthreshold varieties of the condition. Despite efforts to treat the condition, around 37% of patients still revert back to mania or depression after a year. This number goes even higher two years after treatment as 60% of patients are likely to relapse. Using the STEP-BD cohort (n=1469), about 58% of patients affected with the two types of the condition, types I and II get to full recovery while 49% experienced relapses in a two year span. The number of cases where patients relapsed into depressive polarity doubled the number of patients who experienced manic polarity upon relapsing.

Symptoms of the disease

According to WebMD, the major difference between types I and II of this disorder is the intensity of the mania. “Bipolar I disorder involves periods of severe mood episodes from mania to depression. Bipolar II disorder is a milder form of mood elevation, involving milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with periods of severe depression.” The condition is more likely to manifest through depressive symptoms than the manic type. According to Judd et al.,( 2002), depressive symptoms are 3 times more prevalent than manic symptoms. The range of symptoms for bipolar disorder range from;
  • Mixed states
  • Mania and hypomania
  • Cycle frequency
  • Depression

When the depressive states hit, the patient may experience feelings of melancholy, psychomotor retardation, marked anhedonia, weight gain, and hypersomnia. In young people, these could be accompanied by psychotic features. Some sub-syndromal symptoms for depression also include occupational and interpersonal disability which particularly affects patients with bipolar II disorder.

According to Judd et al., (2003), most patients with type II bipolar disorder spent about 1% of their weeks with symptoms of hypomania. A sub-population of 20% of patients affected with either type of bipolar disorder had not experienced a single episode of depression as per  Kessler et al., (1997).

Diagnosis of the disease

To start with, the disease is not very easy to diagnose as the symptoms are not unique from other disorders of a similar kind such as, schizoaffective disorder, major depression, schizophrenia and the likes. Secondly, symptoms of the condition such as, impulsivity, recklessness, truancy and other aspects of anti-social conduct can often be played down as something less serious.

Bipolar is always considered when checking for the psychotic condition affecting a patient. This is especially the case when the patient exhibits symptoms of depression. 3.9% of patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder find that they actually have bipolar I disorder while 8.6% find that they have bipolar II. The main tool of identifying bipolar disorder in a patient is using neuropsychiatric assessment and combining it with medical history and physical assessment. The medical practitioner can also use screening tools such as Mood Disorder Questionnaire to identify manic episodes.

The use of laboratory results is applied on a case-to-case basis. Such tests may include checking for levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), blood or urine toxicology, serum chemistries, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), a complete blood count (CBC), imaging studies and electroencephalograms.

Western treatments for bipolar disorder

The Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Bipolar Disorder was developed by the American Psychiatric Association to provide a guide on how to approach treatment. In treatment, an alliance of therapists is important towards achieving successful treatment that hinders relapses.  Patients should also be educated on the condition and how it will affect different facets of their life and how it will affect relationships.

Medications used for the condition are usually targeted towards alleviating particular symptoms of the condition. Symptoms such as depression, sleep, and cycling can be treated separately.

Efficacy of acupuncture for treatment of bipolar disorder

In a bid to find a solution more effective than Western treatment options, a lot of patients are adopting alternative forms of treatment such as acupuncture. Studies have been conducted to show that acupuncture is an effective treatment when it comes to mood disorders and other mental conditions. These treatments can either be used in isolation or combined with conventional methods to achieve the best results.

Dr. Tricia Suppes, a professor in the Psychiatry Department at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, began a formal study on the effects of acupuncture on bipolar disorder back in 2001. The study was sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, and served as a follow-up to studies done at the University of Arizona College of Medicine where acupuncture was used to treat unipolar depression. Suppes found that over the course of 2 months, patients who received acupuncture with points specific to depression were able to lower their bipolar disorder medication doses when compared to patients who received a generalized acupuncture treatment.

In another research study carried out by Dennehy E et al., (2009), randomized tests were done to check for the efficacy of adjunctive acupuncture in treating symptoms of hypomania and depression. The test subjects were diagnosed with bipolar disorder (DSM-IV criteria). Patients with mania received acupuncture over a period of 12 weeks. As for patients affected by depression, acupuncture was performed for a period of 8 weeks. According to results from the study, all patients experienced a significant alleviation of symptoms over the period they participated in the study. The researchers noted that there were few side effects too.

There has been a preliminary medical research done by Luo et al., (1998), to affirm the use of electro-acupuncture (EA) in the treatment of bipolar disorder. This type of acupuncture was found to be affective in stimulating the production of norepinephrine for the test animals. In a human test, 29 depressed patients were recruited to take part in the study which also combined a placebo. The study was conducted for a period of 6 weeks, showing positive results for mood improvement in patients. The research suggested that EA was a possible mechanism in treating bipolar disorder.

Combining alternative treatments has shown a lot of improvement in the treatment of mood disorders. One of the main reasons for the rise in popularity for the use of acupuncture is its noninvasive nature and steady improvement in results, along with few, if any, side effects.

At Boca Raton Acupuncture we have had a lot of success treating this condition. If you’re suffering with bipolar disorder we want you to know there is help. Call us today for a free consultation.