Bipolar Medication

Describes the nature of bipolar disorder, including its various diagnoses and treatments. Provides guidance on how to assist someone with bipolar and offers tips for self-care and management.

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If you get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, it’s likely that your psychiatrist or GP will offer you medication. Read on to find out potential medications they may offer you.

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What will my doctor need to know?

When deciding on the best medication for you, your doctor will look into several important things:

  • What you’re feeling right now, like if you’re very happy, very sad, or having mixed feelings.
  • What you’ve felt in the past, including the kinds of mood swings you’ve had and how long they lasted.
  • How treatments worked for you before.
  • Your chances of having mood swings again, and what usually causes them.
  • Your overall health, especially if you have issues with your kidneys, weight, or blood sugar.
  • Whether you’re likely to take your medicine as you should.
  • Your gender and age, and if you’re a woman, whether you could get pregnant.
  • For older adults, a check-up to see how well your brain is working, like the tests for memory problems.

Lithium

Your doctor might give you lithium to help with bipolar disorder, and you might need to take it for a long time, at least six months or more. Lithium can help to:

  • Help stop big mood changes.
  • Keep you from feeling extremely high (mania) or very low (depression) again.
  • Help you feel less like hurting yourself.

To make sure lithium works well for you, the amount you take has to be just right. You’ll have to get regular blood tests and check-ups to make sure everything is okay with your health while you’re taking it.

Antidepressants

Your doctor may suggest a kind of antidepressant, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), for treatment. It’s possible these antidepressants could be prescribed alongside one of the previously mentioned medications.

It’s crucial to consult your doctor or pharmacist before mixing any medications or taking them in close succession. There’s a risk they might not interact well.

For instance, taking lithium together with SSRIs could heighten the chance of experiencing adverse effects, such as serotonin syndrome.

Anticonvulsants

Three anticonvulsant medications, which serve as mood stabilisers, have been approved for the treatment of bipolar disorder. The three approved medications are:

Carbamazepine, marketed as Tegretol, is occasionally prescribed for manic episodes. If lithium doesn’t work or isn’t suitable for you, your doctor might recommend carbamazepine. 

Valproate, known under brand names like Depakote and Epilim, is used for managing mania episodes and is often part of a long-term treatment strategy. It might be an option if lithium isn’t effective or appropriate for you. However, valproate is generally not advised for individuals who can become pregnant due to serious pregnancy risks. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is revising its guidelines on valproate usage. If you’re currently on valproate, continue taking it unless advised otherwise by your doctor. 

Lamotrigine, which is sold as Lamictal, is approved for treating severe depression associated with bipolar disorder. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does not, however, endorse it for managing mania. Pregnant individuals on lamotrigine are advised to undergo regular medical check-ups.

Antipsychotics

If you are currently going through a manic or hypomanic episode, it’s common for your doctor to recommend an antipsychotic medication.

Similarly, if you exhibit psychotic symptoms during a manic episode or a severe depressive episode, your doctor will likely prescribe antipsychotics.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the organisation that produces guidelines on best practice in healthcare – recommends the following antipsychotics:

  • olanzapine – also known as Zalasta, Zyprexa, ZypAdhera
  • risperidone – also known as Risperdal, Risperdal Consta
  • haloperidol – also known as Dozic, Haldol, Haldol Decanoate, Serenace
  • quetiapine – also known as Atrolak, Biquelle, Ebesque, Seroquel, Tenprolide, Zaluron

Helpful links

Here you can find a lot of useful information about almost all medications on the NHS’s own website.

Here is an overview of bipolar disorder with some useful links also on the NHS’s own website.

Get support

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