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Module 2: Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder
Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder
MEDICATION TREATMENT FOR BIPOLAR DISORDER
The recommended standard treatment for bipolar disorder is medication, which focuses
on controlling or eliminating the symptoms and then maintaining the symptom-free state by
preventing relapse. The effective use of medication requires that you work closely with
your medical practitioner. Some patients may respond well and experience few side effects
with one type of medication, while others may do better with another. Thus, when taking
medication, it is important that you monitor its effects and consult with your doctor.
Principles of Medication Management
1. For medication to be of benefit, you should carefully follow the prescribed treatment and take note of
your symptoms and side effects.
2. If side effects develop, these should be reported to your doctor as soon as possible to
avoid prolonged discomfort. It is strongly advised that you do not stop medication
abruptly before first consulting with your doctor. This could bring on a return of a
manic or depressive episode.
3. Alcohol, illicit drugs, and other prescribed medicines may cause your medication for bipolar disorder
to be ineffective and may increase side effects. You should report all other medications and
substances you are taking to your doctor to ensure that none adversely interact with the medication
prescribed for bipolar disorder. Research has shown that substance use impacts negatively on the
course and outcome of bipolar disorder and may be a contributing factor to relapse and episode
4. Effective medical management of bipolar disorder requires you to monitor your symptoms and side
effects, and work with your doctor to adjust dosages or types of medications.
Phases of Treatment
There are usually three phases to medical treatment for bipolar disorder — acute treatment, continuation
treatment and maintenance treatment. The most important aim, if you are experiencing an episode of
mania, hypomania, or major depression, is to control or eliminate the symptoms so that they can return to
a normal level of day-to-day functioning. The duration of this acute phase of treatment may last from 6
weeks to 6 months. Sometimes, longer periods are necessary in order to find the most effective
medications with minimal side effects.
Continuation treatment, which is the next phase, may last from 4 to 9 months. In this phase, the main
aim is to maintain the symptom-free state by preventing relapse, which is the return of the most recent
The third phase, the maintenance phase, is critical and essential for all patients with bipolar disorder.
The goal for maintenance treatment is to prevent recurrence, that is, to prevent new episodes of mania,
hypomania, or depression from occurring. For bipolar patients, as with other medical conditions such as
diabetes or hypertension, maintenance treatment may last 5 years, 10 years, or a lifetime. But remember,
the more time you can go without symptoms the more chance you will have to get on with the things that
are important to you in life.
For all phases of treatment and all medications, patients must take the prescribed medications on a daily
basis. Unlike medications like paracetamol or antibiotics that are taken only when a person actually
experiences a headache or has an infection, medications for bipolar disorder must be taken regularly – on
both good days and bad days – at the same dosage.