Bipolar disorder is a mental illness where people experience extreme shifts in mood: episodes of depression followed by manic episodes.

Bipolar disorder affects more than 5.7 million American adults, according to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. If you have this disorder, you’ll probably need professional medical treatment.

Doctors often prescribe medication as a part of the treatment plan for bipolar disorder. One of the most commonly prescribed medications is the antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft).

There are no blood tests or brain scans that can be used to diagnose bipolar disorder. Your doctor will look for any symptoms of the disease to make a diagnosis. They will also look at your family history.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder can be tricky. You may not experience severe mood swings. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania that can affect some people. You may also have a mixed state of bipolar disorder where you experience mania as well as depression at the same time. Find out more about how to cope with mania.

You may also have psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. Some people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed with other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.

There’s no cure for bipolar disorder. Instead, doctors focus on treating the symptoms of the disorder. Bipolar disorder is often treated using a combination of psychotherapy and medications.

The antidepressant Zoloft is a common drug prescribed to treat bipolar disorder. Learn more about the different types of antidepressants.

Zoloft is effective in treating depression, but it can have some side effects.

If you have bipolar disorder and you’re taking an antidepressant, such as Zoloft, without a mood stabilizer, you may be at risk for shifting into a manic or hypomanic episode. Not all antidepressants cause this shift, but the risk is present and it should be monitored.

Additional side effects of Zoloft may include:

Rare side effects may include increased bleeding, such as bleeding from your gums, and low sodium blood levels.

Another rare side effect is serotonin syndrome, where you have too much serotonin in your body. This may occur if you combine certain medications such as those for migraines with antidepressants. Common symptoms of this life-threatening syndrome include:

Always tell your doctor about any other medications or supplements you may be taking to avoid serotonin syndrome from occurring. If you experience any of the above symptoms, get medical attention immediately.

Children and teens on the medication may experience an increase in suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are also a symptom of bipolar disorder, so it’s important to watch adolescents on Zoloft carefully. The good news is that only a small number of people have this side effect, and there doesn’t seem to be an increase in suicides due to the medication. Zoloft is still more likely to decrease suicidal thoughts than increase them.

If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until help arrives.
  • Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
  • Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Zoloft should be used in conjunction with a mood stabilizer and psychotherapy to be truly effective. It will take some time for the medication to get into your bloodstream and work so you should be patient.

Talk to your doctor about potential side effects and any problems you experience. If you notice that you’re having severe side effects, there are other treatment options that might be more effective for you. Always take the recommended dosage and don’t skip doses. Don’t stop taking your medication without your doctor’s permission, either.

You shouldn’t be afraid to talk to your doctor. They can go over your medical history as well as your family’s medical history and come up with the right treatment plan. Your doctor can also ensure that any medications or supplements you’re taking won’t interfere with your medications for bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong disease. It can be controlled, but proper treatment is key.