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Medications for Bipolar Disorder

Many bipolar disorder medications are available, including anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, and antidepressants. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, lithium is better suited as a maintenance treatment, and lamotrigine is more effective at treating bipolar depression. If your current medication is not working as expected, or if you are experiencing bothersome side effects, ask your healthcare provider about one of the other medications for this condition.

Medications for Bipolar Disorder: An Overview

Several different medications have been approved to treat bipolar disorder, and many more are used "off-label" to treat the condition. Some are more useful for treating bipolar mania, while others are best for treating bipolar depression. Still others are appropriate as a "maintenance treatment," helping people who are not currently manic or depressed to maintain a stable mood.

Lithium: The Classic Bipolar Disorder Drug

The classic medication for bipolar disorder is lithium (Eskalith®, Eskalith CR®, Lithobid®). Lithium is actually just a naturally occurring element, like potassium or calcium. In the 1800s, scientists thought that it might be an effective gout treatment, although the drug was found to be ineffective for this use. Later, in the 1940s, lithium was used as a salt substitute, until it was withdrawn from the market due to several deaths caused by lithium toxicity. Later, it was discovered that lithium works for mania. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a bipolar disorder medication in 1970.
Lithium is approved to treat manic episodes, but not depressive episodes. It is also approved for use as a maintenance treatment. The drug is the one of the oldest and most affordable bipolar disorder medications, and many healthcare providers consider it to be the treatment of choice. However, lithium can cause serious side effects (i.e. lithium toxicity), and frequent blood tests to measure the level of lithium in your blood are necessary.
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