Drugs for Bipolar Disorder

There are many different drugs used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, and they don't all do the same thing or serve the same purpose. Because symptoms of bipolar disorder range from mania that can include psychosis to severe depression, different types of drugs are often required at different stages of the disorder. People with bipolar disorder often take more than one drug at a time, particularly when they are experiencing a manic or depressive episode. Even when a person with bipolar is largely symptom-free, it is common to take mood-stabilizing drug (sometimes in combination with other medications) to prevent a recurrence.

Drugs to Treat Mania

The mood-stabilizer lithium is a commonly prescribed medication that has been used to treat mania for decades, and it is highly effective for many people. However, it does have side effects that about 30% of people who try it are unable to tolerate. Other drugs used to treat mania include anti-convulsants like Depakote (which is quite effective at treating rapid cycling bipolar and acute episodes of mania) and Tegratol, and atypical antipsychotics like Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel and Abilify.

Drugs to Treat Depression

The combination drug Symbyax, which includes the atypical antipsychotic olanzapine and the antidepressant fluozetine, is approved by the FDA to treat depression in bipolar disorder. Seroquel and Lamictal (an anti-convulsant) have also been shown to relieve bipolar depression. Antidepressants are sometimes prescribed, but it is not clear that they are effective in treating bipolar depression and may induce mania in some people.

Drugs to Prevent Recurrent Episodes

Lithium, Lamictal, Zyprexa, and Abilify are the drugs that have been approved by the FDA for preventing or delaying recurrence in bipolar disorder. Most people with bipolar disorder benefit from maintenance therapy with one or more drugs to prevent future episodes.

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