Autoimmune Disease Management 101: Fighting Back

3 Classes Of Medications Used To Treat Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a major disorder that is frequently misdiagnosed as depression, especially since there can be a wide range in symptom presentation. Once the symptoms of bipolar disorder are recognized, it is important to find an effective treatment plan.


There are several categories of antidepressants, such as reuptake inhibitors, tricyclics, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI). Tricylics, in general, are infrequently used for affective disorders, with reuptake inhibitors being the most frequently used. Antidepressants cannot be used alone in the treatment of bipolar disorder since antidepressant monotherapy can cause people with bipolar to switch into a manic phase. Typically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are tried first. If they are not effective, serotonin-norepineprine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) might be used. People who are treatment-resistant may find one or more antidepressants that affect all three neurotransmitters: serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, are more helpful in reducing the number of depressive episodes and the severity of these episodes.


As its name implies, antipsychotics are frequently used to treat psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. However, many of the them are effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder by reducing the number of manic episodes and the severity of manic episodes. Newer antipsychotics are not only helpful, but they tend to have fewer side effects than their older counterparts, which can make treatment compliance easier. Some antipsychotics have a high incidence of significant weight gain, somnolence, and extrapyramidal effects, and they are usually reserved for people who have not had success with newer medications. In some cases of bipolar disorder, a person may perform well with an antipsychotic alone and may not need combination therapy.

Mood Stabilizers

Mood stabilizers can be thought of as medication designed to balance a person's mood. Depending on the treatment approach of a psychiatrist, this may be the first type of medication they want a patient to try. Mood stabilizers are usually medications that were originally used as anti-seizure treatments, but were eventually approved for use in people with bipolar disorder. These medications include lithium, valproic acid, lamotrigine, and carbamazepine. Both lithium and valproic acid tend to be more popular choices because they may be more effective and have a longer history in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Lithium and valproic acid also require more consistent blood monitoring to make sure the dosage is within the therapeutic window. If a mood stabilizer alone is not helpful, a psychiatrist may slowly add other medications based on the patient's symptoms.

Most people with bipolar disorder will need more than one medication to achieve the right balance to help control their symptoms. Fortunately, significant progression in the types of medications available means there are more options, often with fewer side effects. Contact a clinic, like Commonwealth Affiliates PC, for more help.