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Bipolar disorder medication

2-minute read

Bipolar disorder is a serious, chronic mental health condition that involves having extreme mood swings.

Someone with bipolar disorder can swing between periods of depression and periods of feeling constantly high, irritable, agitated or excited, which is known as mania or hypomania.

If you have bipolar disorder, you can be treated. The treatment for bipolar disorder can help make the episodes of depression and mania shorter, easier to get through and less likely to happen.

Understanding bipolar disorder medication

Most people with bipolar disorder are treated with a combination of medicine and psychotherapy. Psychological treatment on its own is usually not enough. Medication plays a vital role and is used to:

  • treat episodes of depression
  • treat episodes of mania or hypomania
  • prevent these episodes from happening again

Often a combination of medicines is prescribed.

Mood stabilisers

Mood stabilisers are medicines that treat or prevent mania by stopping mood swings. They include:

  • lithium, which is used as a long-term treatment
  • anticonvulsants such as sodium valproate, carbamazepine and lamotrigine

Antipsychotics

Antipsychotics, such as risperidone, quetiapine, olanzapine, asenapine and paliperidone, may be used if there are psychotic symptoms (i.e. hallucinations or delusions). They also help to stablise mood, treating both mania and depression, and helping reduce the risk of further episodes.

Antidepressants

If you have bipolar disorder and are going through an episode of depression or have suicidal thoughts, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help you recover. You will usually still need to be on a mood stabiliser.

Learn more about antidepressant medicines.

You and your doctor will work out which medications work best for you. Sometimes the first one isn’t the right one. It’s important to talk to your doctor and work with them to find the right one, and to take them as prescribed.

Important information about bipolar disorder medication

For most people, the benefits of treatment outweigh the risks of being on medication. However, if you or someone you know is considering treatment, ask the treating doctor:

  • What are the benefits of bipolar disorder medication?
  • What are the risks of medication?
  • What are the side effects?

Also discuss what other medications are being taken as some medications can interact with bipolar medication. Never discontinue or adjust doses on your own without talking to your doctor.

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Last reviewed: February 2018


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