Treatment options of bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, affects more than 10 million Americans according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The disorder is characterized by extreme changes in mood. The National Library of Medicine defines these extremes as manic, energetic highs and depressive lows.
Although the cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, it often runs in families. The disease may also be triggered by environmental and biological factors including sleep deprivation, hypothyroidism and certain medications. Typically, symptoms appear in older teens or individuals in their early twenties.
Bipolar disorder: Treatment with Medication
Medication is first prescribed to stabilize mood swings. Treatment following stabilization is aimed at maintaining mood balance and can include a single drug or a combination of drugs. Lithium has been around the longest and is indicated for the treatment of mania and depression. Side effects of lithium can be serious and include hypothyroidism, muscle weakness and slurred speech.
To prevent these side effects, physicians measure lithium levels in the blood. The frequency of these blood tests is determined by the doctor on a case-by-case basis. A newer medication, Symbyax, is composed of an antidepressant and an antipsychotic and can be used to stabilize mood. Serious side effects include suicidal thoughts, allergic reactions and a syndrome characterized by high fever, rigid muscles and convulsions. Anticonvulsants, antipsychotics (as a secondary option to anticonvulsants) and antidepressants are other options. Benzodiazepines, or anti-anxiety drugs, are sometimes prescribed on a limited basis to aid sleep.
Because of the complexity of the disease, the Mayo Clinic says that several medications must be tried until the best option is found.
Bipolar disorder Treatment with Therapy
In addition to medication, an integral part of bipolar disorder treatment is therapy. Several types of therapy exist but the most popular is cognitive behavioral therapy. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, behavioral therapy can be as effective as antidepressant drugs.
Through behavioral therapy, patients learn to recognize harmful behaviors and unhealthy thinking that may lead to mood changes. Then, they are taught how to replace those behaviors with healthy alternatives.
Psychologists say that cognitive behavioral therapy trains patients to deal with stress. Family and group therapy are sometimes recommended to educate the patient’s family about the disease, help patients communicate better, and prevent patterns that may have triggered manic-depressive episodes in the past.
A small number of patients may undergo electroconvulsive therapy if mood swings become more severe or if other treatments have proven ineffective. The Mayo Clinic defines electroconvulsive therapy as electrical currents passing through the brain. The shock to the brain may change brain chemistry and improve a patient’s mood.
Bipolar treatment Treatment with Lifestyle Changes
Patients with bipolar disorder can also make lifestyle changes that can help prevent future manic-depressive episodes. Many doctors recommend frequent exercise because a good work out releases “feel good” chemicals called endorphins in the brain.
Endorphins not only improve mood but also sleep, which helps stabilize mood. Other recommendations include avoiding alcohol and illegal drugs as well as relationships that promote this type of behavior.