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Bipolar Disorder - Medications

Medicines, when taken as prescribed, can help control bipolar mood swings. Your doctor will vary the amounts and combinations of your medicines according to your symptoms, which type of bipolar disorder you have, and how you respond to the medicines.

About 1 out of 3 people will be completely free of symptoms of bipolar disorder by taking mood stabilizer medicine, such as carbamazepine or lithium, for life.5

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Bipolar disorder is a serious diagnosis that affects more than 10 million Americans. Unlike depression, bipolar disorder is equally common in men and women. The onset of the condition typically occurs in the early 20s, but (although rare) the first symptoms can appear in early childhood or late in life. Although some people may have only one episode, bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition that usually involves recurrent episodes. It's usually marked by episodes of mania or hypomania (low-grade...

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Taking medicines during pregnancy for bipolar disorder may increase the risk of birth defects. If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor. You may need to keep taking medicine if your bipolar disorder is severe. Your doctor can help weigh the risks of treatment against the risk of harm to your pregnancy.

Medicine choices

Several medicines are used to treat bipolar disorder. It may take time to find the treatment that works best for you. The most common medicines used are:

Medicines and your lifestyle

When you and your doctor are discussing your medicines, think about whether your lifestyle allows you to take medicines on time every day. A medicine you only take once a day may work best for you if you have a hard time remembering to take your medicines.

During your doctor's appointment, ask about:

  • The side effects of each medicine.
  • How often you will need to take the medicines.
  • How the medicines may interact with other medicines you are taking.
  • Whether it's important to take the medicines at the same time every day.

Monitoring medicines

You'll need to check in with your doctor regularly when taking medicines for bipolar disorder.

If you are prescribed carbamazepine, lithium, or valproate, you will need regular blood tests to monitor the amount of medicine in your blood. Too much lithium in your bloodstream may lead to serious side effects. Blood tests can also help show how medicines are affecting your liver, kidneys, and thyroid gland or to measure the number of blood cells in your body.

The use of antidepressants alone has been linked to an increase in manic episodes. Antidepressant treatment needs to be monitored closely to avoid causing a manic episode.

FDA advisories

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an advisory on antidepressant and anticonvulsant medicines and the risk of suicide. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, a person taking antidepressants should be watched for warning signs of suicide, such as threatening to harm himself or herself and being preoccupied with death or suicide. This is especially important at the beginning of treatment or when doses are changed.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 03, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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