Medications

Bipolar disorder can be diagnosed and medications prescribed by a GP. Usually, bipolar medications are prescribed by a psychiatrist. Not everyone responds to medications in the same way. Several different medications may need to be tried before the best course of treatment is found.

Keeping a chart of daily mood symptoms, treatments, sleep patterns, and life events can help the doctor track and treat the illness most effectively. Sometimes this is called a daily life chart. If a person’s symptoms change or if side effects become serious, the doctor may switch or add other medications.

Some of the types of medications generally used to treat bipolar disorder are listed on the next page. Information on medications can change.

Mood stabilizing medications are usually the first choice to treat bipolar disorder. In general, people with bipolar disorder continue treatment with mood stabilizers for years. Except for lithium, many of these medications are anticonvulsants. Anticonvulsant medications are usually used to treat seizures, but they also help control moods. These medications are commonly used as mood stabilizers in bipolar disorder:

  • Lithium was the first mood-stabilizing medication approved 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.
  • Epilum (valproic acid) is a popular alternative to lithium for bipolar disorder. It is generally as effective as lithium for treating bipolar disorder. [Also see the section: “Should young women take valproic acid?”]

More recently, the anticonvulsant lamotrigine (also sold in Australia as: Lamictal, Elmendos, Lamitrin and Lamogine) has been used in the 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.

People taking anticonvulsant medications for bipolar or other illnesses should be closely monitored for new or worsening symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts or behavior, or any unusual changes in mood or behavior. People taking these medications should not make any changes without talking to their health care professional.

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