Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a psychiatric disorder in which a person suffers from extreme mood swings that alternate between depression and euphoria (clinically known as mania). Currently, no cure exists for bipolar disorder. As a result, treatment for this condition revolves around preventing and managing symptoms, namely the bouts of depressive and manic states.
While doctors remain unsure of the exact causes of bipolar disorder, they do know that bipolar disorder is associated with imbalances of certain neurotransmitters and hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine. Consequently, taking medications is a large part of a bipolar treatment regimen. The main types of medications doctors prescribe to bipolar patients include:
- mood stabilizers.
Doctors generally recommend some combination of the above options when designing a medication cocktail for bipolar patients. The exact combination depends on the details of individual cases (i.e., age, other medications a person uses, other conditions he suffers from, etc.).
However, prescription medication is generally most effective when used in conjunction with some type of therapy. Pairing medication with therapy is a holistic approach that can help the patient not only comply with taking his medication, but also learn how to identify and cope with symptoms of mood swings.
In this section, we will outline the various treatment options for bipolar disorder. Our articles will describe both common and alternative treatments, highlighting the risks and benefits associated with each.
Anticonvulsants, commonly known as antiepileptic medications, are a group of drugs that doctors generally prescribe to treat seizures. However, while anticonvulsants are effective medications for epileptic patients, their mood stabilizing properties also makes them a viable option in the treatment of bipolar disorder.
Anticonvulsants can be used with or in the place of lithium. One of the biggest benefits of this type of medication is that it effectively treats manic episodes, it has far less side effects than lithium and, therefore, it has a high compliance rate with patients. On the downside, anticonvulsants are generally ineffectual in managing depressive states. Learn more about the advantages and risks of taking anticonvulsant medications.
Anti-psychotics are another type of medication that doctors use to treat bipolar disorder. Like anticonvulsants, anti-psychotics were originally meant to treat a different condition, namely the psychosis associated with schizophrenia. However, its ability to stabilize the mood has made it one of the main medications doctors prescribe for bipolar disorder.
The three types of antipsychotic medications include:
- atypical (second-generation) anti-psychotics
- dopamine partial receptors
- typical (first-generation) anti-psychotics.
Read more about the benefits and side effects associated with taking antipsychotic medications.
Studies have proven that bipolar patients who attend therapy while taking their medication are more functional, experience less mood swings and, consequently, are hospitalized less. While medications attempt to balance the hormones and neurotransmitters associated with manic and depressive episodes, therapy can help a bipolar patient to adjust to and work with the world.
One of the main goals of therapy for bipolar disorder is to help patients understand their condition so they can recognize symptoms of severe mood swings. As they get better at identifying manic and depressive symptoms, they can use tools and techniques (such as relaxation techniques) to curb mood swings and prevent full-blown episodes.
Bipolar patients can choose from a number of therapy options, depending on their needs and preferences. Here is more information on various types of therapy for bipolar disorder.
EMedicine Staff. (2007). Bipolar disorder. Retrieved July 19, 2007, from the eMedicine Web site: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/bipolar_disorder/page2_em.htm.
National Institute of Mental Health Staff. (n.d.) Bipolar disorder. Retrieved September 10, 2009, from the National Institute of Mental Health Web site: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/complete-index.shtml.