Researchers are still trying to pinpoint exactly what causes bipolar disorder. However, many treatments are available to help manage its symptoms.
Treatment for bipolar disorder varies from person to person. That’s because our brains, while structured similarly, work differently.
Coupled with the fact that the actual cause of bipolar disorder remains to be discovered, it’s quite difficult to identify a single treatment that works for everyone.
Here are some factors to consider before you talk with your doctor about trying something else.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that creates extreme shifts in mood.
If you have bipolar disorder, you may feel sudden highs, known as mania, or sudden lows, known as depression. You may also have trouble managing relationships or everyday tasks.
There are three types of bipolar disorder:
- Bipolar I disorder is categorized by having at least one severe manic episode. A depressive episode is not needed to receive a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder.
- Bipolar II disorder is categorized by having at least one depressive episode that lasts at least 2 weeks, as well as at least one less severe manic episode known as hypomania.
- Cyclothymic disorder is sometimes called “bipolar III disorder.” It’s characterized by having periods of hypomania and depression that last at least 2 years.
If you have lasting depression or symptoms of mania, a licensed mental health professional can give you a proper diagnosis and help you find a treatment that works for you.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder include depression, mania, and hypomania.
If you feel like you’re having any of these symptoms, a licensed mental health professional can help.
When visiting a professional, it may be helpful to bring a close loved one along to your visit. They may be able to help identify certain patterns and behaviors that you may have trouble identifying on your own.
Once you receive a bipolar disorder diagnosis, your healthcare professional will decide on a treatment plan that works best for you. Some options include:
- lifestyle changes
Your care team may include a range of healthcare professionals, such as:
- psychiatric nurses
- social workers
Treating bipolar disorder can be a trial and error process. While this can be very frustrating at times, it’s important to find a treatment that works best for you.
A healthcare professional will often prescribe one medication to see whether it works. Depending on your symptoms, they may prescribe a combination of medications.
Antipsychotics may be used in situations of acute manic episodes requiring hospitalization. However, mood stabilizers, such as lithium, are generally considered the main therapy for bipolar disorder.
Mood stabilizers may be used in combination with antipsychotics as they can take a while to work. In some people, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also be used to treat symptoms of depression.
Some medications can take weeks to reach their full, expected results. Make sure you ask your healthcare professional how long your specific medication should take to work, and what the expected results should be.
Some of the most common medications prescribed to help treat bipolar disorder include:
- Lithium. This mood stabilizer comes in the form of an oral solution, or an extended- or immediate-release tablet.
- Anticonvulsants. These can also stabilize mood. Some examples include divalproex sodium, lamotrigine, and valproic acid.
- Antidepressants. These drugs can treat depression. Examples include SSRIs, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and tricyclics.
Talk with your healthcare professional before taking a bipolar disorder medication. Some medications may not be safe for certain groups, such as people who are:
- using birth control pills
Also, be sure to talk about the risks and benefits of taking certain medications for bipolar disorder, as some medications can cause side effects.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, some of the most common therapy options to treat bipolar disorder include the following:
- Family-focused therapy sessions focus on educating you and a close loved one on the causes and symptoms of bipolar disorder. You’ll also learn how to prevent symptoms.
- Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) is a type of individual therapy where you keep track of your day-to-day activities, and your therapist helps identify certain patterns in your daily routine that may trigger symptoms.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) allows you to focus on your thoughts and behavior patterns. You and a therapist will help identify solutions to problems and challenges that you notice in your behaviors.
- Dialectal behavioral therapy mixes individual and group therapy to help you become more mindful and manage emotions better.
- Support groups use different methods of therapy depending on the specific group, but the goal is typically to have a network of people who you can relate to and speak openly with. They can also help you stay accountable with treatment.
Some lifestyle changes may be helpful for managing bipolar disorder symptoms. These include:
- creating a healthy and structured daily routine
- reducing stress
- getting exercise
- getting involved in social activities
Other treatment options
Some people believe that natural treatments help with symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Small studies suggest that when paired with conventional treatment, these complementary treatment methods may help manage symptoms:
- fish oil
- rhodiola rosea
- massage therapy
However, more research is needed to evaluate their true effectiveness.
If you choose to try one of these complementary methods, let your healthcare professional know. They can make sure it’s compatible with your prescribed treatment plan.
The goal of medication for bipolar disorder treatment is to help manage anxiety, depression, manic episodes, and other symptoms.
If you regularly take your medication, you should feel some kind of desired effects. Your mood should improve or at least stabilize. You should feel more at ease and overall better about your condition.
You may not notice subtle changes in your condition, but others around you might. Talk with trusted friends or family members, and ask for their thoughts on how you’ve been doing.
This change won’t happen immediately, but if you’re not feeling any better after taking your medication for a period of time, let your healthcare professional know.
Almost all medication comes with side effects. However, sometimes the benefits of taking the medication may outweigh its side effects.
Talking about and addressing the side effects of your medication with your healthcare professional is important in getting the best care for bipolar disorder.
Some side effects of commonly prescribed medications include:
- weight gain or weight loss
- reduced sexual desire
- dry mouth
- blurred vision
- changes in appetite
Some people can experience more severe effects. Report any and all of your concerns to your healthcare professional so they can get an accurate understanding of how the medication is affecting you.
If any of your treatments cause thoughts of suicide, contact your healthcare professional immediately. These are signs that your medication and therapy aren’t working correctly.
If suicidal thoughts are surfacing, you’re not alone. Help is available right now:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 800-273-8255, or start a chat with a counselor.
- Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- Not in the United States? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
There’s a chance that medication for bipolar disorder may not become as effective as it once was as your body starts to develop a tolerance to it.
Tolerance and other factors can prevent medications for bipolar disorder and depression from working effectively.
This might occur because:
- your underlying brain biochemistry may have changed
- you have another health condition
- you’ve made dietary or other changes
- you’ve lost or gained weight
As with any medication, don’t stop taking your prescriptions until your healthcare professional has told you to do so. They can work with you to find another medication or treatment if tolerance occurs.
Sometimes, it can take several tries before figuring out the right treatment for bipolar disorder. If you’re experiencing unpleasant side effects or feel like a certain medication isn’t working properly, talk with your healthcare professional. They will help you find a treatment that works for you.