Using medications to treat bipolar disorder

Manic-depressive illness, better known as bipolar disorder, is treated with a wide array of psychiatric medication. Most commonly, mood stabilizers are used to treat this disorder. However, antidepressants and antipsychotics can also be used in conjunction with the mood stabilizers.

Mood stabilizers

The first step in gaining control over bipolar disorder is a mood stabilizers. While other medications may come in and out of the patients treatment plan, mood stabilizers are typically used for treatment for several years. One of the most effective and first used stabilizers is lithium. This medication was approved for use for treating both manic and depressive episodes in 1970.

In addition to lithium, anticonvulsant medications are sometimes used. While they are mainly used to treat epilepsy they work well to stabilize a person’s mood. For some people anticonvulsant medication such as valproic acid, carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, and lamotrigine work better than lithium.

Atypical antipsychotics

On occasion atypical antipsychotic medication can also be used to treat the symptoms. Typically, when antipsychotic medications are used they are used in tandem with other medications.

For people suffering from bipolar disorder the following antipsychotics may be used:

  • Clozapine (Clorazil), which is often used for people who do not respond to lithium or anticonvulsants
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Lurasidone (Latuda)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa), which helps people with severe or psychotic depression, which often is accompanied by a break with reality, hallucinations, or delusions.


Another type of medication that can be used to treat bipolar disorder is antidepressants. Because antidepressants can force a person to go from the depression cycle of bipolar disorder rapidly into the mania cycle, they should not be taken on their own. Antidepressants should be given to a patient along with either an antipsychotic or a mood stabilizer.

Side effects of mood stabilizers

There has been change in how the polar disorder is treated over the last decade. Since people respond differently to medications, patient should tell their physician immediately if there are any long-term side effects. The doctor may want to change the prescription or the dosage should this occur.

There are many different medications that are used to treat bipolar disorder. Each has their own list of side effects some of which can be quite severe.

Side effects that may be caused while taking lithium include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Blackouts
  • Frequent urination
  • Fast, slow, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
  • Changes in vision
  • Loss of coordination
  • Seizures
  • Itching, rash
  • Swelling of the eyes, lips, throat, tongue, feet, hands, ankles, face, or lower legs
  • Slurred speech
  • Hallucinations

Patients being treated with lithium for their bipolar disorder should have regular blood work to ensure that the thyroid and kidneys are working normally.

Valproic acid/divalproex sodium side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Anorexia
  • Changes in Weight
  • Stomach Pain
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Vomiting

Patients taking valproic acid should also see their physician regularly for blood work. Valproic acid can cause pancreas and liver damage.

Another side effect of valproic acid is that it may increase the testosterone levels in teenage girls. This increase of testosterone can cause polycystic ovarian syndrome, which will affect the fertility of the teenage girl. It can also cause menstrual cycles to become irregular. Women who are pregnant should take caution while taking this medication as it is known to cause birth defects.

People taking lamotrigine should be aware that it can cause a rare but serious skin rash. This rash must be treated in a hospital as it can be life-threatening or debilitating.

Other side effects of anticonvulsant medications include the increased risk of suicidal behaviors and thoughts. For this reason people who are taking anticonvulsants to treat their bipolar disorder should be closely monitored. Any changes in behavior should be reported to the doctor immediately. Medication should only be ceased under doctor’s supervision.

Recommendations for taking medication to treat bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder has no known cure. Long-term medication and treatment can help reduce the symptoms. Treatment should be continuous instead of on and off for best results. It should be known, that made changes such as mania or depression can occur even if there is no break in treatment. An open and honest discussion with your physician is the best way to ensure that your mood is stabilized.

Medication given for the treatment of bipolar disorder should be taken as prescribed by your physician. On occasion treatment plans will need to be modified in order to maintain a normal life. Do not stop medication without physician supervision. Some of these medications if stopped abruptly can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

To assist your doctor better in making the right decision for you, it may be best for you to keep a daily diary of your moods and feelings. This will allow you to keep track of when treatment is no longer working and assist your doctor and making the right determination in changing your plan.

medications used to treat bipolar disorder
bipolar medications
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