If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, your first question is probably what sort of bipolar medication is available for you. You may want to get a prescription, or you may want to try to treat yourself naturally. Understanding the different options is your first step to deciding which treatment is best for you.
The abundance of prescription medications for bipolar disorder can be overwhelming. One key fact to remember is that no one diagnosed with bipolar should take depression medication without also taking a mood stabilizer. Taking antidepressants can make the symptoms of bipolar worse or even trigger a manic episode. Taking a mood stabilizer along with an antidepressant creates a “ceiling” that inhibits the ability to enter into a manic state.
So what are the most popular bipolar prescription medications?
• Lithium: This is the medication most often used to treat bipolar disorder. The classic mood stabilizer, lithium evens out mood swings in both directions. It prevents any extremes in mood, including both manic and depressed states. In most cases, manic symptoms will be greatly reduced between 5-14 days after beginning treatment. Even so, it may take weeks or months until the body stabilizes on this medication, so antipsychotic or antidepressants may be prescribed in addition. If choosing to take this medication it is important to have regular blood tests, as too little lithium will be ineffective and too much lithium may cause unwanted side effects. Common side effects of lithium are tremors, memory loss, excessive thirst, nausea, and diarrhea.
• Valproic Acid: The main alternative to lithium, valproic acid is an anticonvulsant medication that is just as effective in evening out drastic changes in mood. It is thought to work due by inhibiting the amount of “excitatory” signals that can be released in the brain, reducing the amount of manic episodes. It can be used alone, in combination with lithium, or in combination with a variety of antipsychotics. Valproic acid has been known to cause liver problems, so it’s important to have regular doctor’s visits when taking this medication as well. Common side effects of valproic acid are swelling of the limbs, confusion, diarrhea, chills, and weight gain.
Though these two medications can be taken in combination with antidepressants (such as Zoloft or Prozac) or antipsychotics (such as Zyprexa or Abilify), they are the two most initially prescribed bipolar medications. Only if the patient does not respond well to one of these do doctors change dosages or add other medications.
If taking a prescription medication for bipolar, it is important to remember that the drug may take weeks or months to stabilize in your system and begin producing positive effects. Because of this, it’s important not to rapidly switch medications or dosages until your body has time to respond. Additionally, when stopping a medication it is important to gradually wean yourself off of it instead of stopping cold turkey.
This reduces the chances of withdrawal symptoms and relapsing into manic or depressive states. Some medications may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts, so it’s important to be closely monitored when starting a new medication for signs of increased depression or unusual changes in mood.
Reading the extensive list of side effects of prescription medications can be daunting, especially if you know you’ll have to be taking them for a while. Because of this, many people try to cure themselves through bipolar natural remedies before committing to a long-term prescription.
• 5-HTP: 5htp is the precursor to serotonin – the brain chemical that helps promote a healthy mood – and can naturally increase serotonin levels in the brain. Since it is a derivative of an amino acid that the body naturally produces, it has less harmful effects on the body overall. It has been used for decades to treat insomnia, anxiety, migraines and depression, and has very few known side effects. People may experience heartburn or nausea when taking this supplement, though the risk of these can be decreased by taking it with a full meal.
• Fish Oil: Fish oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which research has shown to reduce aggression and irritability and maintain a stabilized mood. In order to reap the benefits, it must be taken on a daily basis.
• Valerian Root: An herb known for its sedative properties, it is commonly used with people who have difficulty sleeping. As a regular dietary supplement, valerian root can help promote a calm mood and reduce both stress and anxiety.
• Exercise regularly: Moderate exercise as part of a daily routine releases endorphins that aid in a positive mood and regular sleep patterns.
• Get enough sleep: Getting a good night’s rest can reduce irritability and help stabilize your mood.
• Yoga and meditation: Taking time out of your day to relax your mind and body is important for your mental and physical health overall.
Common natural remedies for depression such as St. John’s Wort and SAMe are known to treat symptoms of depression, though have been known to cause symptoms of mania in some bipolar patients. If you are thinking of taking a bipolar natural treatment such as one of these, it’s important to discuss with a nutritionist or doctor before starting.
It’s important to note that no one of these remedies is known to be a bipolar disorder treatment completely on its own, though in combination with a healthy lifestyle they can begin to produce positive results. In many cases, natural remedies may be needed in combination with prescription medications, and prescription medications may be needed in combination with talk therapy.
Before combining any medications it’s important to discuss with your doctor in order to avoid any negative drug interactions. The extensive list of types of bipolar medication can be confusing and overwhelming, but by working together with your doctor you’ll be able to find a combination that works for you.
From our hearts to yours,