For the manic phase of bipolar disorder, antipsychotic medications, lithium, and mood stabilizers are typically used. For the depressive phase, antidepressants are sometimes used, with or without the manic phase treatment.
There is very little long-term evidence suggesting that any medication has great success in the maintenance phase. However, in studies that followed patients for 2 years, lithium and some antipsychotics were found to be moderately successful.
Antipsychotic drugs can help a person who has lost touch with reality. Anti-anxiety drugs, such as benzodiazepines, may also help. The patient may need to stay in a hospital until his or her mood has stabilized and symptoms are under control.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used to treat bipolar disorder. ECT is a psychiatric treatment that uses an electrical current to cause a brief seizure of the central nervous system while the patient is under anesthesia. Studies have repeatedly found that ECT is the most effective treatment for depression that is not relieved with medications.
Getting enough sleep helps keep a stable mood in some patients. Psychotherapy may be a useful option during the depressive phase. Joining a support group may be particularly helpful for bipolar disorder patients and their loved ones.
Mood-stabilizing medication can help control the symptoms of bipolar disorder. However, patients often need help and support to take medicine properly and to ensure that any episodes of mania and depression are treated as early as possible.
Some people stop taking the medication as soon as they feel better or because they want to experience the productivity and creativity associated with mania. Although these early manic states may feel good, discontinuing medication may have very negative consequences.
Suicide is a very real risk during both mania and depression. Suicidal thoughts, ideas, and gestures in people with bipolar affective disorder require immediate emergency attention.
Stopping or improperly taking medication can cause your symptoms to come back, and lead to the following complications:
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse as a strategy to “self-medicate”
- Personal relationships, work, and finances suffer
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
This illness is challenging to treat. Patients and their friends and family must be aware of the risks of neglecting to treat bipolar disorder.
Calling Your Health Care Provider
Call your health provider or an emergency number right way if:
- You are having thoughts of death or suicide
- You are experiencing severe symptoms of depression or mania
- You have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and your symptoms have returned or you are having any new symptoms
Review Date : 1/15/2009
Reviewed By : Christos Ballas, MD, Attending Psychiatrist, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.