Bipolar Disorder Treatments
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder also
known as manic-depressive illness. It’s not curable but it is treatable. It’s a
chronic disorder requiring lifelong treatment and attention. Treatment will
vary depending on the type of bipolar disorder. What works for one person may
not work as well for another. Bipolar disorder symptoms can be managed
effectively with an appropriate treatment plan. Communicate openly with your
doctor to find the plan best suited for you.
Medications for Bipolar Disorder
The changing moods and symptoms of bipolar
disorder may respond differently to different medications. It’s common to try
several drugs before finding the ones that work best for you. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains that the most common types of medications used to
treat bipolar disorder are mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, and antidepressants.
Mood stabilizers are the first line of
medical treatment. These drugs, which include lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid) and
anticonvulsants, help stabilize moods. Anticonvulsants used to treat bipolar
disorder can include:
- divalproex sodium (Depakote)
- lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- topiramate (Topamax)
- oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
When taking some of these medicines, such as
lithium, you need to get regular blood tests. Regular blood tests help ensure
effective and safe levels of the drug in your body. If the blood levels of
these medications are not high enough, then you will not receive their full
potential benefit. Alternatively, the drugs can cause side effects to
other organs if levels get too high. Side effects can include:
- memory problems
- dry mouth
- increased urination
- hair loss
- weight gain
- thyroid problems
According to the
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about
30 percent of individuals who try lithium as a treatment will not be able to
Atypical antipsychotics can be used with mood stabilizers. These drugs usually
treat manic or mixed episodes. These drugs include olanzapine (Zyprexa),
aripiprazole (Abilify), and risperidone (Risperdal). Common side effects of
atypical antipsychotics include:
- weight gain
- skin rash
- blurred vision
Standard antidepressants are also used to treat bipolar disorder. Examples
include fluoxetine (Prozac), buproprion (Wellbutrin), and sertraline (Zoloft).
These medications are usually given with mood stabilizing drugs because they
can trigger manic episodes in some people. Side effects of antidepressants can
- sexual problems
- dry mouth
Talk with your doctor about any medications
you are on for bipolar disorder. Know the possible dangerous side effects, and
let them know if any occur. There are risk factors for any medications. Your doctor
will discuss the various risks and potential benefits with you to decide what
medications are best.
Finding the right medication can be highly
effective in treating bipolar disorder, though it’s often most effective when
combined with psychotherapy. With insurance plans increasingly covering more
mental health expenses, more medications used to treat bipolar disorder are
being covered. This makes them more affordable and available to more people.
Psychotherapy and Bipolar Disorder
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is often used
with drugs for bipolar disorder. A therapist can provide emotional support
along with education about the disorder to you and your family. They may also
help you avoid relapses and manage symptoms.
There are different kinds of therapy that may
be helpful, including cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy,
interpersonal therapy, and psychoeducation.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the branch of
psychotherapy most frequently used to treat bipolar disorder. During CBT, people
with bipolar disorder learn effective coping methods for dealing with the
disorder, reducing the impact that the disorder has on them.
When one member of the family has bipolar
disorder, it can heavily affect the rest of the family. Family members of those
with bipolar disorder are also more likely to develop the disorder, or
depression. During family therapy, those with bipolar disorder and family
members work with a therapist to learn effective communication skills. For
instance, they are taught to recognize signs of impending episodes or upcoming
relapses. They also learn what to do when those with bipolar disorder seem to
Interpersonal therapy focuses on current
relationship issues caused by the disorder and seeks to help people with
bipolar disorder improve their relationships with the core people in their
life. By strengthening relationships, stress decreases, helping to treat one
risk that leads to manic episodes.
It’s often combined with social rhythm
therapy, which focuses on stabilizing social rhythms like sleeping, eating, and
Psychoeducation works by teaching those who
have bipolar disorder more about their mental health condition. By understanding
the disorder, people with bipolar disorder can develop skills to better manage
their symptoms. For instance, learning to recognize early signs of an impending
episode can help reduce it. This therapy can also help identify personal
triggers and develop a treatment plan.
Psychotherapy is often highly effective in
treating bipolar disorder. It is also often used in conjunction with
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly
known as shock therapy, is sometimes used for people with treatment-resistant
bipolar disorder. When ECT is given, you take a muscle relaxant and are under
short-term anesthesia. An electrical impulse is briefly administered. It’s a
same day procedure with a quick recovery. However, there can be serious side
effects with ECT, such as memory loss. Discuss the possible side effects with
your doctor if you are considering this treatment.
Alternative Treatments for Bipolar Disorder
Nonmedication supplements are also a possible treatment for bipolar. They are
less common than the usual medications and psychotherapy. You might want to
talk with your doctor about less traditional treatments if standard treatment
doesn’t work for you.
Herbal supplements should not be taken
without first talking with your doctor. These natural supplements can interact
with medications and other treatments and may have adverse effects.
Natural supplements and vitamins thought to
help treat bipolar disorder include:
- Fish oil. Studies have shown
positive results when fish oil is used to help treat depression, though no
specific correlations have been found with mania.
- Amino acids. Some studies have
shown that amino acids can help to regulate mood, and can boost production of
neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine.
In addition to taking supplements or
vitamins, that are several other alternative remedies and lifestyle changes people
with bipolar disorder can make to help manage bipolar disorder. These include:
- regular exercise
- plenty of sleep
- avoidance of unhealthy
- healthy, balanced diet
- avoidance of alcohol and illegal
Bipolar Disorder for Children and Teens
Treatment for bipolar disorder in children
and teenagers is often different than treatment in adults. Since children and
teenagers are thought to have more unstable moods to begin with, they sometimes
don’t get the treatment they need.
Children and teenagers may have different
reactions to the same medications used to treat bipolar disorder in adults.
They should take the fewest number of medications and in the smallest doses
Find therapists who specialize in working
with children. In this case, family therapy can also be particularly helpful for
children and teens with bipolar disorder and their families.
As children get older, their bipolar disorder
— and thus treatment — can change.
If you have a child with bipolar disorder, keep
a chart of their moods, behaviors, and sleep patterns. Try to keep them on a
routine sleeping and eating schedule as much as possible.
Support for Loved Ones
Those with bipolar disorder aren’t the only
ones who feel the effects of this condition. People who care for or have
relationships with someone with bipolar disorder may also experience
challenges. They may experience guilt, grief, worry, disruptions in their own routine,
and reckless behavior from the loved one with bipolar disorder.
In this way, individual or family therapy can
also help those who have a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder.
Support groups for people who have loved ones
with a mental illness are available and can be extremely helpful. Ask your
therapist or physician about support groups that might be right for you,
whether you are someone with bipolar disorder or care for someone who has it.
Researchers continue to study new forms of
treatment for bipolar disorder. The specific causes of bipolar disorder are
also being researched.
There is currently no cure for bipolar
disorder. However, the condition is treatable. With medical treatment,
alternative remedies, and multiple options for psychotherapy currently
available to treat this condition, treatment for bipolar disorder is more
accessible than ever. If you’re currently being treated for bipolar disorder,
consult your doctor before adding in new supplements or medications to your
If you exhibit symptoms or think you may have
bipolar disorder, ask your doctor for a referral to a therapist.