What Is Bipolar Disorder? Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

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Treatment may involve a combination of mood-balancing medication, psychotherapy, brain stimulation therapies, and certain lifestyle changes and complementary health approaches, according to Mayo Clinic.

In some instances, hospitalization may be necessary. But in many cases, outpatient treatment of bipolar disorder is successful, per Mayo Clinic.

If you’re afraid you or a loved one might hurt themselves or attempt suicide, it’s important to seek emergency medical help by dialing 911 for emergency medical services or 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Medication

Commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder, according to Mayo Clinic, are:

  • Mood Stabilizers These medications are prescribed to help manage manic symptoms. Medicines like lithium (Lithobid), divalproex sodium (Depakote), valproic acid (Depakene), and lamotrigine (Lamictal) fall under this category.
  • Antipsychotics Your doctor may add an antipsychotic drug to your treatment regimen if your manic or depressive symptoms persist, despite treatment with other medications. This class of medications includes risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel), and lurasidone (Latuda).
  • Antidepressants These medicines are sometimes prescribed to help manage depressive episodes. But they’re usually prescribed alongside a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic because taking antidepressants alone could potentially trigger manic episodes for some people with bipolar disorder.
  • Anti-Anxiety Medication If you’re struggling with anxiety or sleep, your doctor may prescribe you a short-term course of anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines to help you feel better.

These drugs can have a variety of side effects, and finding the right drug therapy can be challenging and take some time. It’s important, though, not to stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor, even if you’re feeling better. Doing so can cause withdrawal symptoms, or your symptoms may worsen or come back, per Mayo Clinic.

Psychotherapy

In conjunction with medication, your doctor will likely recommend some form of psychotherapy or counseling. Some common options for bipolar disorder, per Mayo Clinic, are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) During CBT sessions, a therapist will help you identify your triggers for mood episodes and develop behavioral strategies for managing them.
  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) This form of therapy is focused on stabilizing your daily rhythms, including wake times, bedtimes, and mealtimes. Consistent routines are thought to help balance moods in people with bipolar disorder.
  • Family Therapy In this form of therapy, you and your family members can learn to develop healthy communication strategies, which can help with managing your condition. Through family therapy, your loved ones can also learn about your triggers and how to recognize the warning signs of a mood episode.

Brain Stimulation Therapies

In instances where medication and psychotherapy aren’t enough to manage bipolar symptoms, your doctor might recommend you try brain stimulation therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy or deep brain stimulation, according to NAMI.

During brain stimulation therapies, doctors directly and safely stimulate the brain via electricity, magnets, or implants, per NAMI.

Lifestyle Changes and Complementary Therapies

Making certain lifestyle changes may also be necessary, such as staying away from drugs and alcohol, avoiding certain foods like those containing caffeine, or making sure you’re exercising regularly, per Mayo Clinic.

Seeking out educational resources and a community of support can help you understand how to live with the condition and cope with symptoms. Joining a support group is one way to do this. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, for instance, offers in-person and online support groups for people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones to share what they’re going through.

Learn More About Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

Prevention of Bipolar Disorder

Although there’s no way to prevent bipolar disorder, seeking treatment at the earliest sign of this condition — and sticking to that treatment in the long term — can help you manage the symptoms and improve your prognosis, according to Mayo Clinic.

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