Medication for Bipolar Disorder in Adults

NYU Langone psychiatrists often prescribe medication to manage bipolar disorder as well as coexisting mental health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Our experts choose a medication based on your symptoms.

Medication can be a short or long term treatment option for bipolar disorder, depending on your symptoms and response to treatment. Often, medication is used in conjunction with behavioral therapy or psychotherapy. A medication consultation with an NYU Langone psychiatrist enables you to ask questions about your treatment and discuss any concerns.

Mood Stabilizers

A doctor may prescribe a mood stabilizer, such as lithium, for people with bipolar disorder. This medication can help manage symptoms of mania and reduce the frequency and severity of both manic and depressive episodes. A person with bipolar disorder may take lithium for the rest of his or her life.

Long term use of lithium may affect kidney function and thyroid hormone levels, so your doctor regularly monitors the levels of lithium in your blood through a simple blood test. Lithium use can lead to too much or too little thyroid hormone, which can cause mood changes. Kidney damage from long term lithium use may cause kidney disease.

Side effects of mood stabilizers may include dry mouth, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Anticonvulsants

Anticonvulsants, such as valproic acid, gabapentin, and lamotrigine, are also used to stabilize mood in adults with bipolar disorder. These medications were originally developed to treat people who have had seizures.

Anticonvulsant medications may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. For this reason, people taking them are closely monitored by their NYU Langone psychiatrist for new or worsening symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts or behavior, or unusual changes in mood or behavior.

Other Medications

Other medications, such as antipsychotic and antianxiety medications, may be prescribed on a short term basis to manage symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as psychosis or trouble sleeping.

Medication Management

When you start a new medication, NYU Langone psychiatrists meet with you on a regular basis to ensure the medication is working and to adjust the dose as needed. Initial follow-up visits occur on a monthly basis, then may extend to about once every three months.

Some people are able to taper their use of medication until they no longer need it. Others continue using medication for the long term.

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