Bipolar Medication Part I: Proper Use of Medications
If your relative or a friend was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, you can ease the process of treatment for your loved one. You can start with learning the information about the disorder, offering your support and keeping track of the symptoms with the disease. But you shouldn’t forget to take care of yourself. In this article, you will find everything you need to know about bipolar medication.
The Role of Medications in Bipolar Disorder Treatment
The medications are the basis in treating the bipolar disorder. They can control the heights and lows of the disorder – mania and depression. You will need to take the meds in a long-term basis, so they are able to keep in constantly in a stable mood.
So, bipolar medication is the basis, but of course, they alone won’t help you completely. You’ll need to take some other precautions to prevent your symptoms from appearing again – they are therapy and healthy lifestyle.
Proper use of bipolar disorder medications
- Continue taking meds when you feel better. It will help you to avoid relapses. If you think you no longer need meds and to change something in your treatment, talk to your doctor first.
- Use natural mood stabilizers. They are sleep schedule, exercises, meditations, asking for support. Your lifestyle is very important in regulating your mood.
- Forget about antidepressants. The bipolar depression is not a regular depression and should be treated differently. Antidepressants can worsen the situation or trigger a manic episode.
- Include therapy to your treatment. You will recover much faster if together with meds you will go to therapy. It will help you to cope with problems and monitor your progress.
Finding the bipolar disorder medication that fits you
Finding the right bipolar medication and its proper dose can take a while. Since every person responds to meds differently you will most likely need to try various meds and even their doses before finding that (or those) that are good for you. The amount of the dose can be very important with such meds like lithium – one dose may be not enough, another – may be toxic.
Learn about your bipolar disorder medication
When you start taking new meds, you’d better learn some info how to know the safe ways. Ask your doctor:
- Are there any medical conditions that could be causing my mood swings?
- What are the side effects of the recommended medication?
- When and how to take the medication.
- Will you need to avoid some other meds or even food?
- How will this medication interact with your other prescriptions?
- How long will you need to take it?
- Will your symptoms return when you stop taking the meds?
- How difficult will it be to withdraw from the medication?
Brand-name vs. generic drugs
It’s a common misconception that generic drugs are worse than the brand-name drugs. But the cost of a brand-name drug is higher because the manufacturers spend lots of money for marketing their drugs. They have the same safety profile, potency, dosage, use, risks and side effects as the generic drugs. Brand-name drugs may also change their color due to color dyes. Sometimes, these extra ingredients will appear in the generic form of the drug which will be less tolerable, so if your condition worsens after taking this generic drug, consult with your doctor.
Responsibility for taking the medications
If you take your bipolar disorder medications regularly and responsibly, combine them with a healthy lifestyle and therapy, you will ensure yourself with a successful treatment.
- Take your meds as prescribed. You may start feeling better and stop taking the drugs. You may experience some side effects thus stop taking the drugs. But stopping the medication treatment may cause the relapse. Before making any changes with your treatment, talk to your doctor. He will be able to help you withdraw from the drug or to replace one drug with not very pleasant effect with another suitable for you.
- Keep track of side effects. When the symptoms occur, make the notes of the date and their intensity. Show these records to your doctor.
- Be aware of drug interactions. Always check for drug interactions before taking other substances. Otherwise, you may experience side effects and the treatment may become ineffective. Discuss the precautions for your bipolar medications with your doctor. You may want to read the drug labels and to talk to your pharmacist.
How to manage bipolar disorder medications
- Use daily reminders to take your medications regularly.
- Throw away old medications or those you don’t take to avoid any confusion.
- Reduce or refuse drinking alcohol. It is a depressant and it will hinder your recovery, by interfering with the work of your medications, causing unexpected side effects.
Remember that meds are the basis, but they work best with your healthy lifestyle and therapy. A pill won’t fix a bad diet or a lack of exercise. Take care of yourself and stay healthy.
Bipolar Medication Part II: Commonly Used Medications in Treating Bipolar Disorder
To help you manage the bipolar highs and lows, there are a number of special medications. They are the very basis of the bipolar disorder treatment, and they help overcome both manic and depressive episodes.
Mood Stabilizers: Lithium
One of the major known mood stabilizers for people who suffer from bipolar disorder is lithium. Though it is hugely helpful in treating mania, it can help with depressive episodes as well. But it won’t help much with mixed episodes or rapid cycling forms of bipolar disorder. In order for the medication to start working in its full range, people need to take it for at least two weeks.
Of course, as with any medication, there is a range of side effects. The most common for bipolar medication include:
- Excessive thirst; increased urination
- Weakness or fatigue
- Weight gain
- Stomach pain
- Nausea, vertigo
- Memory and concentration problems
- Thyroid problems
But as your organism adapts to the bipolar medication, these side effects may disappear.
Why it is important to do blood tests regularly
To ensure that you take the right dose of lithium. If it is too high – it can be toxic. If it is too small – it won’t help you. So to establish the perfect dose for your organism it is essential to take blood tests once or even twice a week. When the dose will be determined, your blood will be tested less frequently – approximately once in two or three months. There are so many factors that may influence the right lithium amount, that it should be always monitored. Even the new brand of this medication can cause the dose changes.
Among these factors we can name:
- Changes in your weight (loss or gain)
- Seasonal changes (lithium levels may be higher in the summer)
- Caffeine, tea, and coffee
- Hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and pregnancy
- Changes in your health (for example, heart disease and kidney disease increase the risk of lithium toxicity)
- Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs (e.g. ibuprofen, diuretics and heart and blood pressure medication)
- The amount of sodium in your diet
How to avoid toxic lithium levels
- Remember to do blood tests whenever they are needed.
- Stick to your diet: before changing the amount of salt in it – talk to your doctor.
- Drink lots of liquids – water especially and in hot days or during exercising especially.
- Alcohol helps your body to lose water. Especially if you are on vacation in the sun where you sweat more.
- If any of the symptoms mentioned above start showing up – go visit your doctor immediately. And before being prescribed any other medications from other specialists always tell that you are taking lithium.
Mood Stabilizers: Anticonvulsants
This is another common mood stabilizer which is used in bipolar disorder treatment. It is used to treat epilepsy but it has proved to be useful in reducing mood swings and manic episodes. They include Carbamazepine (Tegretol), Lamotrigine (Lamictal), Topiramate (Topamax) and, the most common, Valproic acid.
Valproic acid (Depakote or Depakene)
Valproic acid (Divalproex or valproate) is a mood stabilizer. Other brand names are Depakote and Depakene. It is the first choice to treat rapid cycling, mixed mania or mania with hallucinations or delusions. If you can’t tolerate the side effects caused by lithium – this is a good option. Though it also has its own side effects:
- Weight gain
In old times doctors used to treat bipolar depression with antidepressants, but modern doctors believe that it is a risky thing, and they doubt that antidepressants should be prescribed for bipolar disorder treatment.
Antidepressants don’t really help with bipolar depression. The National Institute of Mental Health revealed that it is not effective to add any antidepressant to a mood stabilizer. With the same result one can treat bipolar depression with only mood stabilizers. Another NIHM study showed that antidepressants work as well as placebo.
If a person has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and, as a consequence, has been prescribed with antidepressants – he or she must take them together with other mood stabilizers, such as lithium or valproic acid, for example. The treatment with only antidepressants only is fraught with triggered manic episodes.
And anyway in time antidepressants may adapt to the body and start working as mood destabilizers. And those who suffer from bipolar disorder should be very careful when taking antidepressants.
If you can stop your mood from cycling, you might be able to stop depressive episodes from reappearing completely. If you can stop the mood cycling, but symptoms of depression remain, use the following medications as little helpers: Lamictal (lamotrigine), Seroquel (quetiapine), Zyprexa (olanzapine), Symbyax (a pill that combines olanzapine with the antidepressant fluoxetine).
If you’re currently taking antidepressants don’t panic and DON’T stop taking them immediately. It can trigger serious health and mental problems. Talk to your doctor and he or she will do his or her best to tape you off the drugs slowly and harmless, so that you won’t have adverse withdrawal effects. Stop taking antidepressants immediately only if any symptoms of mania or hypomania develop.
The manic and depressive episodes of bipolar disorder can be accompanied by losing the touch with a reality. In this case, antipsychotic meds may be prescribed. They can also be an option if mood stabilizers don’t help.
Antipsychotic medications used for bipolar disorder include:
- Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
- Quetiapine (Seroquel)
- Risperidone (Risperdal)
- Ariprazole (Abilify)
- Ziprasidone (Geodon)
- Clozapine (Clozaril)
And as any medication antipsychotic drugs have a range of side effects:
- Weight gain
- Sexual dysfunction (a common side effect, one that often deters bipolar disorder patients from continuing medication. However, a recent study has shown that the medication Sildenafil citrate (Viagra) is both safe and effective in the treatment of antipsychotic-induced erectile dysfunction in men.)
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
As you can understand there is a range of various medications that can help you to stabilize your mood and to shut down bipolar symptoms. And to find what is best for your body and organism always consult your doctor. Thus, you will avoid major health and mental problems.