Bipolar disorder is a life-long illness, but that does not mean it can’t be managed successfully. Many people living with this illness are able to find successful treatments that allow them to function well in their daily lives. Treatment usually incorporates some form of psychotherapy along with medication. Treatment may also involve holistic or alternative therapies and the formation of a support system to help the individual cope with his illness and its effects on his life. If you haven’t visited a medical professional for diagnosis, you might want to take our online bipolar test.
Most people with bipolar disorder need to be on medication long term. Fortunately, there is a long and ever-expanding list of medications used for the treatment of bipolar disorder. Which medication or combination of medications a person needs depends very much on the individual’s symptoms and body chemistry.
Medications for bipolar disorder fall into several categories:
- Mood stabilizers – This was the first class of medications used to treat bipolar disorder. They are typically older drugs that have been on the market for a long time. The popularity of these drugs is waning as newer atypical anti-psychotics are introduced and found to be more successful. Lithium is an example of a mood stabilizer that has been used for a long time to treat bipolar disorder. This category also includes many anti-convulsants, such as Lamictal and Depakote, which were developed as anti-seizure medications but also have mood-stabilizing effects in individuals with the disorder.
- Anti-depressants – These medications address the depressive phase of bipolar disorder, which can be intense and debilitating for many people. In bipolar disorder patients they are typically combined with a mood stabilizer to help avoid mania, as an anti-depressant used alone as treatment may cause abnormally elevated moods, irritability, and even hallucinations for those prone to manic episodes. This class includes Wellbutrin, Zoloft, Lexapro, Prozac, and many others.
- Typical anti-psychotics – Also referred to as first-generation antipsychotics, these medications are some of the first that were used to treat bipolar disorder and can be effective but also have severe side effects, especially with prolonged use. Today they tend to be used only after many other therapies have failed. They can cause tremors, muscle rigidity, and involuntary movements.
- Atypical anti-psychotics – A newer class of medications that are more successful in many patients than mood stabilizers but may also have more negative side effects. Examples include Risperdal, Zyprexa and Seroquel.
- Sedatives – These medications, such as benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, etc) are used to address anxiety, panic, restlessness and agitation.
- Calcium channel blockers – Created to treat high blood pressure, these are currently being studied for use in bipolar disorder. They are thought to be safer in pregnancy than many of the other medications used. They include nimodipine, Cardizem, Procardia and others. More research is needed to assess their effects on bipolar disorder.
- Many individuals with bipolar disorder will need to be on more than one medication, and their combination of medications may change over time.
- Non-medication options are often used in conjunction with medication. Psychotherapy, especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), is nearly always recommended. Support groups, both in person and online, can be extremely valuable for peer support. Psychiatric hospitalization is a treatment option when necessary to help stabilize someone who is suicidal or in a psychotic episode where they or others are unsafe. In-patient treatment can provide the necessary monitoring to help adjust medications to a more effective level. In addition, alternative medicine is used by some bipolar disorder patients for symptom management. Acupuncture, supplements, yoga and meditation can all be part of managing one’s mental health. There is research to support the use of Omega 3 fish oil supplements in bipolar disorder, for instance.
Please note that it is important that a psychiatrist be consulted before participating in any therapy that will involve taking supplements or herbs. Some of these products can have dangerous interactions with pharmacological medications used for bipolar disorder.
It is also important to note that with treatment, a person with bipolar disorder can manage the disease and live a healthy and productive life.