bipolar3Treatment for bipolar disorder

There is no cure for bipolar disorder.  However, treatments are available and have proven to be very successful in most cases.  Good treatment helps people gain control of their mood swings and other related symptoms of bipolar.  Because bipolar disorder is recurrent and lifelong, people with bipolar disorder need life long treatment.  Both medication and psychotherapy are needed to reduce symptoms and prevent relapse.

The following mood stabilizing medications are used to treat bipolar disorder:

  • Lithium (sometimes known as Eskalith or Lithobid) was the first mood-stabilizing medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the 1970s for treatment of mania. It is often very effective in controlling symptoms of mania and preventing the recurrence of manic and depressive episodes as in bipolar disorder.
  • Valproic acid or divalproex sodium (Depakote), approved by the FDA in 1995 for treating mania, is a popular alternative to lithium for bipolar disorder. It is generally as effective as lithium for treating bipolar disorder.
  • More recently, the anticonvulsant lamotrigine (Lamictal) received FDA approval for maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder.
  • Other anticonvulsant medications, including gabapentin (Neurontin), topiramate (Topamax), and oxcarbazepine (Trileptal) are sometimes prescribed. No large studies have shown that these medications are more effective than mood stabilizers.

Other medications, called “Atypical antipsychotic medications” are also sometimes used to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder. Often, these medications are taken with other medications. Atypical antipsychotic medications are called “atypical” to set them apart from earlier medications, which are called “conventional” or “first-generation” antipsychotics. (  These include:

  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa), when given with an antidepressant medication, may help relieve symptoms of severe mania or psychosis.
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify), like olanzapine, is approved for treatment of a manic or mixed episode.
  • Quetiapine (Seroquel) relieves the symptoms of severe and sudden manic episodes.
  • Risperidone (Risperdal) and ziprasidone (Geodon) are other atypical antipsychotics that may also be prescribed for controlling manic or mixed episodes.

Further, antidepressant medications are sometimes used to treat symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder. Most people with bipolar disorder struggle significantly with depression.  People with bipolar disorder who take antidepressants often take a mood stabilizer too. Doctors usually require this because taking only an antidepressant can increase a person’s risk of switching to mania or hypomania. Commonly prescribed anti-depressants to treat bipolar disorder include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin)

Before taking any medication for bipolar, it is important to discuss the many side effects with your doctor.

An additional treatment for bipolar disorder is psychotherapy.  This “talk” therapy, can be an effective treatment for bipolar disorder. It can provide support, education, and guidance to people with bipolar disorder and their families. Some psychotherapy treatments used to treat bipolar disorder include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people with bipolar disorder learn to change harmful or negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Family-focused therapy includes family members. It helps enhance family coping strategies, such as recognizing new episodes early and helping their loved one. This therapy also improves communication and problem-solving.
  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy helps people with bipolar disorder improve their relationships with others and manage their daily routines. Regular daily routines and sleep schedules may help protect against manic episodes.
  • Psychoeducation teaches people with bipolar disorder about the illness and its treatment. This treatment helps people recognize signs of relapse so they can seek treatment early, before a full-blown episode occurs. Usually done in a group, psychoeducation may also be helpful for family members and caregivers.

A licensed psychologist, social worker, or counselor typically provides these therapies. This mental health professional often works with the psychiatrist to track progress. The number, frequency, and type of sessions should be based on the treatment needs of each person.

Again, although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, proven treatments have given patients hope and much more consistent, high functioning lives.



BipolarUnderstanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder (often called BD) is a type of mood disorder.  In the past, this condition was called manic depression but most psychiatrists refer to it as bipolar disorder now.  This disorder is a psychiatric illness that causes major disruptions in lifestyle and health.

Everyone has occasional highs and lows in their moods. But people with bipolar disorder have extreme mood swings between depression and mania. They can go from feeling very sad, despairing, helpless, worthless, and hopeless (depression) to feeling as if they are on top of the world, hyperactive, creative, and grandiose (mania). This disease is called bipolar disorder because the mood of a person with bipolar disorder can alternate between two completely opposite poles, euphoric happiness, and extreme sadness.

Even more confusing for the individual dealing with the disorder is when symptoms of both mania and depression sometimes occur together in what is called “mixed state.”

Also, the mood extremes usually occur in cycles. Between the mood swings, people with bipolar disorder are able to function normally, hold a job, and have a normal family life. However, the episodes of mood swings tend to become closer together with age. Speaking of age, most people start showing signs of bipolar disorder in their late teens (the average age of onset is 21 years). These signs may be dismissed as “growing pains” or normal teenage behavior. On occasion, some people have their first symptoms during childhood, but the condition can often be misdiagnosed at this age and improperly labeled as a behavioral problem. Bipolar disorder may not be properly diagnosed until the sufferer is 25-40 years of age, at which time the pattern of symptoms may become clearer.

When a person is in the grip of this disease, chaos can occur. Bipolar disorder can cause major disruption of family and finances, loss of job, and marital problems.

For instance, severe depression can be life-threatening. It may be associated with thoughts of suicide, actual acts of suicide, and even acts of homicide in some cases.  On the other hand, extreme mania can lead to aggressive behavior, potentially dangerous risk-taking behaviors, and homicidal acts. Also, people with bipolar disorder may turn to drugs and alcohol to “self-treat” their emotional disorder, resulting in substance abuse and dependence.

Because of the extreme and risky behavior that goes with bipolar disorder, it is very important that the disorder be identified. With proper and early diagnosis, this mental condition can be treated. Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that will require proper management for the duration of a person’s life.

Bipolar Symptoms

Bipolar Symptoms

Living with someone with bipolar symptoms?

Much has been said on this blog about drug addictions, mental illness, symptoms and treatments.  However, sometimes we leave out the part about the people who help, care for, and love those struggling with these issues.  That is to say, for most people who struggle with a chemical dependency or a mental illness (be it bipolar symptoms or any other struggle) or any type of addiction, there is most often a concerned parent, sibling, friend, or companion who has possibly pointed out the struggle and continues to live with it in order to help.

Living with someone who has an addiction, chemical dependency, and/or mental disorder can be both challenging and exhausting.  You care deeply for the person who is struggling, yet you have to be careful to have boundaries and limits that individual can’t cross.  Sometimes you feel like a policeman or a mother when those aren’t the roles you want in the relationship.  It can be confusing and overwhelming and at times we wonder if it is worth it.

Further, living with someone with bipolar symptoms can be especially trying.  These symptoms of dramatic and unpredictable mood swings between mania and depression leave us feeling vulnerable and edgy as we attempt to deal with a depressed individual who was happy and energetic and productive (to the extreme) the day before.  It’s confusing and relentless.  We may discredit their behaviors and have a hard time believing one person can act in two different ways that are so dramatically distinct.  We can’t often trust our relationships with them because their feelings toward us seem to swing back and forth as well.

I can say with confidence, however, that no matter how we are treated, it is my firm belief that those struggling with illnesses, bipolar symptoms, addictions, or other dependencies, appreciate us.  It may be hard to feel that from them at times, but I can’t imagine going through what they go through and facing the days they face all alone.  We are an important part of their success.  As someone who is constant and stable and always predictable, it is an extreme test of patience to be with someone who behaves one way and then behaves differently shortly after.  But I can say, that it brings me joy to know that I may be making a small difference in the life of someone who lives with an internal struggle — an internal war per se – of bipolar symptoms every day of their lives, and I wouldn’t trade places for anything.

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