Too often, bipolar disorder goes untreated, but it can be managed with the right medical help.
Many people with bipolar disorder don’t recognize the extreme changes in their moods, and the effect these changes have on their lives and the lives of those around them.
As a result, too many people with the condition fail to get the necessary treatment.
If you think you may have bipolar disorder, talk to your doctor, a friend, or a family member. This person may be able to assist you in taking the first steps toward treating the condition.
If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide — or if you think a loved one may do the same or harm others — seek emergency medical help immediately.
Hospitalization may be required in some cases of bipolar disorder. In most cases, though, the condition can be successfully treated in an outpatient setting — ideally by seeing a psychiatrist.
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Most people with bipolar disorder can lead normal and productive lives if they continue with their treatment and regularly see their doctor.
Bipolar Disorder Medications
If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you’ll most likely need to start taking medication to balance your moods immediately.
Once your mood swings and other symptoms are under control, you’ll work with your doctor to develop maintenance treatment to manage your condition over the long term.
A number of medications are used to treat bipolar disorder, including:
Your doctor will prescribe one or more medications based on the type of bipolar disorder you have, as well as the exact nature of your symptoms.
Most people with bipolar I or bipolar II will need mood stabilizers to control their manic or hypomanic episodes.
If you have one of these forms of the condition, your doctor may prescribe one of the following mood stabilizers:
Depakote (divalproex sodium)
Depakene (valproic acid)
Antipsychotic drugs may also be used to control episodes of depression or mania, especially when delusions or hallucinations are occurring.
Examples of drugs in this class include:
Symbyax (olanzapine and fluoxetine)
An antidepressant may also be used to manage depressive episodes, in conjunction with a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic.
Finally, your doctor may recommend a benzodiazepine — or another type of antianxiety medication — to relieve anxiety or improve sleep.
There’s a certain amount of trial and error associated with finding the right treatment for bipolar disorder.
But given that there are so many options, you and your doctor should be able to find a combination that works well for you.
Bipolar Medication Side Effects
One of the challenges associated with medication for bipolar disorder is the potential for a wide variety of side effects — some of which may be serious.
If you experience side effects from your drug therapy, talk to your doctor. Don’t stop taking your medication(s) unless your doctor advises you to do so.
If you suddenly stop taking a drug, your symptoms may return or you may experience withdrawal.
In addition to their potential for side effects, many of the drugs used to treat bipolar disorder can interact with birth control pills or may have health implications for women who are pregnant or might become pregnant.
If you’re using birth control, are pregnant, or are planning to become pregnant, talk to your doctor before starting on any medication for bipolar disorder.
Brain Stimulation Therapies
If your condition doesn’t respond well to treatment with drugs, your doctor may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
In ECT, your brain is treated with small electrical currents designed to affect the levels of certain neurotransmitters (chemicals that affect the brain).
In TMS, small magnetic pulses are applied to your brain to stimulate nerve cells that control mood regulation.
Both of these approaches typically involve multiple treatments.
Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder
In addition to prescribing medication, your doctor will also most likely recommend that you undergo routine psychotherapy or some other form of counseling.
This may include treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, if you’re dealing with addiction in addition to your bipolar disorder.
There are many different types of psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used form.
In CBT, a mental health professional (psychiatrist or psychologist) will work with you to identify triggers for your bipolar episodes, and develop healthy and effective strategies for dealing with stress and managing your condition.
Your doctor may also recommend educational and support programs for you and your family, which may help you better understand the disease and its symptoms — as well as how to cope with it.
When a child is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, teachers, school administrators, and other support staff are often engaged in treatment to make sure the child is doing well.
Alternative Treatments for Bipolar Disorder
Several so-called alternative treatments, or home remedies, have been recommended for bipolar disorder, although there is limited scientific evidence of their effectiveness in managing symptoms.
Most of these approaches involve taking herbal or dietary supplements, including:
Omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish oil or flaxseed oil)
St. John’s wort (for depression)
Commonly recommended amino acids — such as SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) — and St. John’s wort may interact with antidepressants or trigger episodes of mania or hypomania in some people.
Some people believe that the ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture may help treat depression. Researchers don’t yet know how effective this approach is for bipolar disorder, but it’s known to be safe overall, and it can be tried along with other prescription treatments.
Talk to your doctor before starting any nontraditional treatment for bipolar disorder, to make sure that it won’t interact with any prescription medications you’re taking.
Most important, don’t stop taking prescribed medications even if you’re feeling better.
Living With Bipolar Disorder
Living with bipolar disorder isn’t without challenges — but with the right treatment, education, and support, it’s possible to lead a quite normal and productive life.
If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, make an effort to learn about the disease and its treatment so that you can work with your doctor to find the best course of treatment for you.
Learning about the disorder can also help you educate your family and friends about your struggles, so that they can better support you.
Speaking of support, there are many support groups for people with bipolar disorder and their families. You may find these groups helpful.
As you and your doctor work to refine your treatment to minimize both symptoms and side effects, try to be patient and remain motivated toward achieving your recovery goals. There are many combinations of treatments, and one will most likely work for you.
Finally, find healthy ways to channel your energy and manage or reduce stress.
For example, you should quit drinking alcohol or using drugs, as these substances can worsen the risk-taking behaviors associated with episodes of mania or hypomania — as well as make episodes of depression more severe.
Be sure to surround yourself with supportive, caring friends and family who will help you cope with your condition — and not encourage negative or destructive behaviors.
Exercise regularly, as physical activity can reduce stress, stabilize your mood, and signal your brain to release chemicals — called endorphins — that make you feel good.
Getting enough exercise can also help improve your sleep, which may help stabilize your mood.
Work with your doctor to develop an exercise regimen that’s right for you.
Consider taking on hobbies that help you relax, or explore certain relaxation techniques — such as yoga or meditation — that are designed to reduce stress.