Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in the Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

Danielle Hett, Steven Marwaha

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Bipolar disorder (BD) is a debilitating mood disorder marked by manic, hypomanic and/or mixed or depressive episodes. It affects approximately 1-2% of the population and is linked to high rates of suicide, functional impairment and poorer quality of life. Presently, treatment options for BD are limited. There is a strong evidence base for pharmacological (e.g., lithium) and psychological (e.g., psychoeducation) treatments; however, both of these pose challenges for treatment outcomes (e.g., non-response, side-effects, limited access). Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a non-invasive brain stimulation technique, is a recommended treatment for unipolar depression, but it is unclear whether rTMS is an effective, safe and well tolerated treatment in people with BD. This article reviews the extant literature on the use of rTMS to treat BD across different mood states. We found 34 studies in total (N = 611 patients), with most assessing bipolar depression (n = 26), versus bipolar mania (n = 5), mixed state bipolar (n = 2) or those not in a current affective episode (n = 1). Across all studies, there appears to be a detectable signal of efficacy for rTMS treatment, as most studies report that rTMS treatment reduced bipolar symptoms. Importantly, within the randomised controlled trial (RCT) study designs, most reported that rTMS was not superior to sham in the treatment of bipolar depression. However, these RCTs are based on small samples (NBD ⩽ 52). Reported side effects of rTMS in BD include headache, dizziness and sleep problems. Ten studies (N = 14 patients) reported cases of affective switching; however, no clear pattern of potential risk factors for affective switching emerged. Future adequately powered, sham-controlled trials are needed to establish the ideal rTMS treatment parameters to help better determine the efficacy of rTMS for the treatment of BD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2045125320973790
JournalTherapeutic advances in psychopharmacology
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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