Medications Prescribed To Treat Bipolar Disorder

Links to Important Medication Facts Like Side Effects

Bipolar treatments Geodon, Paxil, Seroquel, Risperdal, Abilify, and Zoloft sit on a shelf. Credit: Bloomberg / Contributor / Getty Images

Bipolar disorder is typically a lifelong illness with episodes (especially if untreated) that are highly variable and unique to each individual. Treatment is complex and often involves more than one medication -- a maintenance medication (mood stabilizer) and a medication to treat acute episodes. 

Since drug therapy is an important component of treatment for bipolar disorder, it's important to educate yourself about them.

Here are links to medications prescribed in bipolar disorder -- this list is thorough, but not all-inclusive. 

Anti-convulsants

Anticonvulsants, also known as anti-seizure medications, are sometimes used as mood stabilizers in bipolar disorder. 

Antipsychotics

First generation antipsychotics, also known as typical antipsychotics, include:

Atypical antipsychotics have fewer extrapyramidal side effects when compared to typical antipsychotics. But some, especially clozapine and olanzapine, carry a high risk of metabolic syndrome. Atypical antipsychotics include:

Antidepressants

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are antidepressants that are commonly prescribed for major depressive disorder, but can also be prescribed for a bipolar depression.

The SSRIs include:

The serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) include Venlafaxine (Effexor), Duloxetine (Cymbalta), and Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), Desfax).

Tricyclic antidepressants are an older class of antidepressants that while effective for some people do carry a large side effect profile including heart arrhythmias and anticholinergic side effects like dry mouth, sedation, and constipation. 

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are an older class of antidepressant. They work by preventing the breakdown of monoamines in the brain, like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Examples include:

There are also antidepressants that do not necessarily fit into a single class, like Nefazodone (Serzone), Trazodone (Olepro, Desyrel), and Bupropion (Wellbutrin).

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines depress a person's central nervous system and are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Benzodiazepines have different half-lives, meaning some are short-acting, intermediate-acting, or long-acting. They include:

Other Medications

There are a number of other medications used in people with bipolar disorder. Some are used quite commonly but do not necessarily fit into a psychiatric medication category. One example is Lithium (Lithane, Lithobid, Lithonate, Eskalith, Cibalith-S, Duralith) -- a common and effective mood stabilizer that requires careful monitoring. On the other hand, Verapamil (Calan, Isoptin), is a blood pressure medication rarely used in the treatment of mania. 

Combination Medications

Sometimes your doctor will prescribe a single medication that combines two drugs. This can provide convenient dosing and make keeping track of your medications a lot easier. Three examples include:

  • Triavil (Amitriptyline/perphenazine)
  • Limbitrol (Amitriptyline/chlordiazepoxide)
  • Symbyax (Fluoxetine/olanzapine)

Bottom Line

It's a good idea to be informed about your medications and to always take them as directed -- do not change your dose or stop taking a medication without consulting your doctor first. In addition, never share your medications with others. These medications are complex and can significantly interact with other medications and pose risks for those with certain health problems. 

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association (2010). Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Bipolar Disorder Second Edition. Accessed February 7th 2016. 

Hamer AM & Muench J. Adverse effects of antipsychotic medications. Am Fam Physician. 2010 Mar 1;81(5):617-22.

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