The most effective treatment for bipolar disorder is a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Most people take more than one drug, like a mood-stabilizing drug and an antipsychotic, benzodiazepine, or antidepressant. However, it's important that treatment be ongoing -- even after you feel better -- to keep mood symptoms under control.
The primary symptoms of bipolar disorder are periods of elevated or irritable mood accompanied by dramatic increases in energy, activity, and fast thinking. The illness has two (bi) strongly contrasting phases (polar): 1) bipolar mania or hypo-mania and 2) depression.
1) Bipolar mania or hypo-mania symptoms include:
Euphoria or irritability
Increased energy and activity
Excessive talk; racing thoughts
Unusual energy; less need for sleep
After remission from an acute episode of bipolar disorder, a person is at an especially high risk for relapse for about six months. Thus, continuation and maintenance of ongoing therapy is often recommended.
Anyone who has experienced two or more manic or hypomanic episodes generally is considered to have lifetime bipolar disorder. That person should have maintenance therapy to minimize the risk for future episodes. Once your doctor has helped stabilize the moods of the acute phase of the disorder (either a manic or depressive episode), drug therapy is usually continued indefinitely -- sometimes at lower doses.
Remember this: Even if you have been without bipolar symptoms for several months, do not stop taking your medications. Your doctor may lower your doses, but discontinuation of medications will put you at risk for recurrence of bipolar symptoms.