Study: Anesthetic May Help Patients With Treatment-Resistant Bipolar Depression

08/04/2010 // West Palm Beach, FL, USA // Sandra Quinlan // Sandra Quinlan

Bethesda, MD—A small study conducted by the Maryland-based National Institute of Mental Health suggested a single intravenous (IV) dose of ketamine, a dissociative anesthetic, could provide fast-acting relief for patients plagued by bipolar depression. The report, published in the August 2010 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, assessed patients who were unresponsive to standard treatments for bipolar disorder, according to information provided by WebMD.

Researchers reportedly studied a group of 18 participants between the ages of 18 and 65 from October 2006 through June 2009. All of the patients involved in the study had previously taken valproate or lithium, two medications used in the treatment of bipolar depression, but to no avail.

Each participant was randomly assigned to receive either a single injection of ketamine or a placebo. Two weeks after the patients’ received their first injections, they were administered the treatment they did not receive during the first test.

While the participants did not undergo any psychotherapy at any point during the study, they continued to take valproate or lithium, as previously prescribed. Researchers reported no serious side effects resultant of the ketamine injections.

Researchers deemed their findings to be extremely significant, especially since scientists are still in the process of fully understanding bipolar disorder.

Reports stated 71 percent of patients responded to ketamine and experienced improved symptoms of bipolar depression within approximately 40 minutes of receiving the injection. On the other hand, only 6 percent of participants responded to the placebo.

Additionally, relief from the symptoms of bipolar depression proved to last up to two days after the ketamine injection was initially administered.

Recent research also suggested the brain’s glutamatergic system was likely involved in bipolar disorder. Given that ketamine affects the glutamatergic system, which plays a role in memory and information processing, the drug could be a potentially vital treatment for patients with bipolar depression that is unresponsive to other known therapies.

Authors of the study deduced, “Future studies should examine strategies for long-term maintenance of ketamine’s rapid antidepressant response.”

Legal News Reporter: Sandra Quinlan.

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