Skip to content

Bipolar Disorder Health Center

Font Size

Anticonvulsant Medication for Bipolar Disorder

Several anticonvulsant medications are recognized as mood stabilizers to treat or prevent mood episodes in bipolar disorder. At first, anticonvulsants were prescribed only for people who did not respond to lithium. Today, they are often prescribed alone, with lithium, or with an antipsychotic drug to control mania.

Anticonvulsants work by calming hyperactivity in the brain in various ways. For this reason, some of these drugs are used to treat epilepsy, prevent migraines, and treat other brain disorders. They are often prescribed for people who have rapid cycling -- four or more episodes of mania and depression in a year.

Recommended Related to Bipolar Disorder

Women With Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder with distinct periods of extreme euphoria and energy (mania) and sadness or hopelessness (depression). It's also known as manic depression or manic depressive disorder. Bipolar disorder occurs with similar frequency in men and women. But there are some differences between the sexes in the way the condition is experienced. For example, a woman is likely to have more symptoms of depression than mania. And female hormones and reproductive factors may influence...

Read the Women With Bipolar Disorder article > >

Anticonvulsants used to treat bipolar disorder include:

These medicines differ in the types of bipolar symptoms they treat. Depakote and Tegretol, for example, tend to be more effective in treating mania than depressive symptoms while Lamictal appears to have stronger antidepressant than antimanic effects. Lamictal also is used more often to prevent future episodes (rather than treat current episodes). Depakote and Tegretol are used to treat acute episodes more than as preventative treatments. Other anticonvulsants are less well-established for treating mood symptoms in bipolar disorder, and some -- such as Neurontin, Lyrica, or Topamax -- are also used "off label" for other types of problems such as anxiety or weight loss.

Each anticonvulsant acts on the brain in slightly different ways, so your experience may differ depending on the drug you take. In general, however, these drugs are at maximal effectiveness after taking them for several weeks.

Anticonvulsant Side Effects

Your doctor may want to take occasional blood tests to monitor your health while taking an anticonvulsant. Some anticonvulsants can cause liver or kidney damage or decrease the amount of platelets in your blood. Your blood needs platelets to clot.

Each anticonvulsant may have slightly different side effects. Common side effects include:

Most of these side effects lessen with time. Long-term effects vary from drug to drug. In general:

  • Pregnant women should not take anticonvulsants without consulting with their doctor, because they may increase the risk of birth defects.
  • Some anticonvulsants can cause problems with the liver over the long term, so your doctor may monitor your liver periodically.

Anticonvulsants can interact with other drugs -- even aspirin -- to cause serious problems. Be sure to tell your doctor about any drugs, herbs, or supplements you take. Don't take any other substance during treatment without talking with your doctor.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on September 11, 2014

Today on WebMD

lunar eclipse
Signs of mania and depression.
Pills on blank prescription paper
Learn about this popular bipolar disorder medication.
serious looking young woman
Assess your symptoms.
teen girl in bad mood
How is each one different?
Feeling Ups and Downs
Bipolar or Schizo
Foods to Avoid
Man being scolded by his shadow
lunar eclipse
depressed man
young women not speaking
man talking with therapist