Statistics show that one in five people with bipolar disorder that do not receive treatment will commit suicide. Medications can be a life saver for those suffering from this disease. Many people with bipolar disorder resist treatment, however, because of medication side effects or because they lose hope. It can sometimes take years to find the right “cocktail” that will end the horrible swings in mood that people with bipolar disorder are plagued with, but once the right medications are found they can bring back balance to a person that has been without it for months or years or decades.
While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, it is a highly treatable and manageable illness. After an accurate diagnosis, most people (80 to 90 percent) can be successfully treated. Medication is an essential part of successful treatment for people with bipolar disorder. Maintenance treatment with a mood stabilizer significantly reduces the severity and frequency of episodes for many people, although episodes of mania or depression may continue to occur and require a specific additional treatment.
Psychotropic medications act by controlling the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but they do not cure mental illness. Most people suffering from bipolar disorder find they need to take part in therapy and make changes to their lifestyle in addition to taking medication.
Like any other medication, those used to treat bipolar disorder do not produce the same effect in everyone. Some people may respond better to one medication than another and some may need larger dosages than others. Some people experience annoying and/or debilitating side effects from certain medications, while others experience no side effects at all. Many factors play a role in determining how your body will react to specific medications, including age, body weight and size, chemistry and metabolism, past and present physical disorders and their treatments, diet, and habits such as smoking and drinking. All of this needs to be discussed with your doctor before beginning a new medication or making dosage adjustments.
To increase the likelihood that a medication will work as prescribed, patients and their families must actively participate with the doctor prescribing it. You must tell the doctor about your past medical history, other medications being taken, anticipated life changes such as planning to have a baby, and after some experience with a medication, whether it is causing side effects. Often patients neglect to mention certain side effects, such as sexual dysfunction, because they are embarrassed. You can trust that your doctor has been told of these side effects before, and unless you alert your doctor nothing can be done to alleviate them.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends you ask the following questions before beginning treatment with a new medication:
1. What is the name of the medication, and what is it supposed to do?
2. How and when do I take it, and when do I stop taking it?
3. What foods, drinks, other medications, or activities should I avoid while taking the prescribed medication?
4. What are the side effects, and what should I do if they occur?
5. Is there any written information available about the medication?