Maintaining Therapeutic Drug Levels in Bipolar Treatment

Strength and duration of medication is important to ensure no side effects

Tegretol, drug called anticonvulsants, used to treat seizures, nerve pain and bipolar disorder : News Photo CompAdd to Board Tegretol, drug called anticonvulsants, used to treat seizures, nerve pain and bipolar disorder. Credit: Education Images / Contributor / Getty Images

The therapeutic level of a drug in the bloodstream is the range within which that drug is expected to be effective without causing any serious problems to the patient. Your doctor can request a test to measure the amount of a specific drug in the serum portion of your blood. Your doctor will check those levels against established ranges for that drug to determine if the value is therapeutic or not.

Medication Dosage and Administration

The most important bipolar disorder drugs to be monitored regularly are these three mood stabilizers:

The therapeutic levels of these drugs is dependent upon the half-life of the drugs as determined by the serum blood test. After test results are taken, proper dosage and administration of these mood stabilizers can commence. After your blood test is administered, usually by a phlebotomist in a lab setting, your results will be shared with your doctor who will determine if the amount of medication and the frequency with which you take them should be changed. The goal is to maintain a "steady state" of drugs in your system, which will give you a therapeutic or effective dose of the medication without causing side effects or otherwise not working. If your medication dosage is off you could experience symptoms that include mood swings or manic episodes, the very thing your psychoactive drugs are meant to prevent.

How Long Does it Take to Reach Therapeutic Levels

From your serum blood test, your medical provider should be able to determine the half-life of your medication, and will know how many hours or days it will take for the medicine to reach therapeutic levels. While some medications have a half life of only 1-4 hours, such as Acetaminophen, some mood stabilizers have a half life of 1-2 days.

The longer the half life of the drug, the long it will take to reach a therapeutic level, i.e. for the drug to take effect. Your doctor will explain how long it will take for your medicine to work, but you must work with him or her to ensure that you take the medication at the recommended dosage at the right time. Because of the long half life, maintaining therapeutic levels takes attention to detail and focus, something that may be hard to maintain for those with bipolar disorders. As you and your family members worth through your diagnosis, be sure to keep track of your medications and have someone equally accountable for you so that you don't miss a dose and render your medication ineffective, or worse risk too much medication in your blood, which could be toxic.

Source

Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Therapeutic drug levels. US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. 24 Aug 2009.

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