Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

Overview Incidence Risk Factors Symptoms Evaluation Treatment drugs ECT pregnancy questions for doctor specialist Home Care diet stress taking control warning signs Complications Underlying Cause

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but medications and mental health counseling can help control symptoms. Those who feel suicidal or have symptoms of psychosis usually require hospitalization. Initial treatment for severe bipolar disorder includes medications to control symptoms. Treatment is usually directed at the phase of the illness that is prominent at the time: depression or mania. After severe symptoms are under control, the doctor starts a long-term treatment plan. Medications include lithium, anticonvulsant medications and antipsychotic medications. About 75 percent of those who are treated with medication improve.

Mental health counseling and psychotherapy are also important for successful treatment of bipolar disorder. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be effect for those who do not respond to other forms of treatment. During ECT, electrical current is passed through your brain, which changes your mood.

Treatment for bipolar disorder includes:

Bipolar Disorder Drugs

Lithium is the most effective medication for the treatment of bipolar illness.

Medications for bipolar disorder:

Bipolar Disorder ECT

Severe bipolar disorder that does not respond to medication may benefit from electroconvulsive therapy, which is also called ECT or shock therapy. During this procedure, electrodes are placed on the patient's head, and an instrument is programmed to deliver a short burst of electricity to the brain. ECT triggers a short seizure, lasting about one minute.

ECT is performed under a brief period of general anesthesia, in order to prevent pain and to avoid prolonged seizures. ECT is usually given 3 times a week for 2 to 4 weeks. ECT is effective in about 75 percent of patients who complete the full course of treatment.

The most common side effect of ECT is a period of mild confusion after treatments, which may last for several minutes to a few hours. The confusion may last longer after each treatment. Side effects of treatment and anesthesia include nausea, vomiting, jaw pain, muscle aches or headache.

This procedure can also cause temporary memory loss during treatments. Memory loss may persist for a couple of months after treatment, but usually resolves. Permanent memory loss is unusual.

Bipolar Disorder Pregnancy

Precautions for women with bipolar disorder and are pregnant:

  • Medications used to treat bipolar disorder can be unsafe for the fetus during pregnancy.
  • A woman who has bipolar disorder must discuss treatment during pregnancy with her doctor, in order to decide on the best treatment plan.

Bipolar Disorder Questions For Doctor

The following are some important questions to ask before and after the treatment of bipolar disorder.

Questions to ask before treatment:

  • What are my treatment options?
  • What are the risks associated with treatment?
  • What are the complications I should watch for?
  • How long will I be on medication?
  • What are the potential side effects of my medication?
  • Does my medication interact with nonprescription medicines or supplements?
  • Should I take my medication with food?

Questions to ask after treatment:
  • Are there any medications or supplements I should avoid?
  • Do I need to change my diet?
  • What else can I do to reduce my risk for depression?
  • How often will I need to see my doctor for checkups?
  • What local support and other resources are available?

Bipolar Disorder Specialist

Physicians from the following specialties evaluate and treat bipolar disorder:

Continue to Bipolar Disorder Home Care

Last Updated: Jun 2, 2011 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Bipolar Disorder References
  1. Geddes J. Bipolar disorder. Clin Evid. 2005 Jun;(13):1158-81. [16135292]
  2. Ghaemi SN, Ko JY, Goodwin FK. The bipolar spectrum and the antidepressant view of the world. J Psychiatr Pract. 2001 Sep;7(5):287-97. [15990539]
  3. Tondo L, Baldessarini RJ, Hennen J, et al: Lithium treatment and risk of suicidal behavior in bipolar disorder patients. J Clin Psychiatry 1998 Aug; 59(8): 405-14. [9721820]
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