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Mental health services: Bipolar

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Bipolar disorder treatments

Treatments

Many other physical and mental disorders are similar to bipolar disorder. To diagnose bipolar disorder, medical and psychiatric exams are needed. Although bipolar disorder cannot be cured, it can be controlled with treatment.

There are two main types of treatments:

  • medicine. There are medicines that treat different aspects of bipolar disorder.
    • Antidepressants can help relieve the depression phase.
    • Lithium salts are used to stabilize moods with minor side effects.
    • Anticonvulsant medicines are used to treat the mania phase of the illness.
    • Antipsychotic medicines are used to restore rational thinking during depressive or manic phases.
  • psychotherapy and support groups. Also known as "talk therapy," psychotherapy can be an important part of treatment for patients and those who care about them. Support groups can provide extra support by talking with others who have found successful ways to cope with bipolar disorder. Talking with a psychotherapist can:
    • provide guidance and education
    • help develop insight into behaviors and relationships
    • help develop healthy behavior patterns
    • encourage compliance with treatment
    • develop and carry out plans and/ or ideas to prevent a relapse.
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Lithium

Lithium is used to treat mania that is part of bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness). It is also used on a daily basis to reduce the frequency and severity of manic episodes.

Learn more about litium in our health library.

How bipolar disorder medicines work

Medicines to treat bipolar disorders work by changing the way nerves receive the neurotransmitters. The nerve that receives the message is less excitable. It passes the message on at a normal rate of speed. The result is you no longer feel hyperactive.


Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression), mh-ahc-11452
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department
First Published: 11/01/2005
Last Reviewed: 11/01/2005

Medicines

How your brain responds to bipolar disorder

Sodium is an important part of your body's make-up. Your brain cells contain sodium to help charge nerves so the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) can send messages among the nerves.

With bipolar disorder, there is too much sodium in the brain cells. The cells get excited and send messages more quickly than they usually do. As a result, the person enters the manic phase of the disorder.

When the number of neurotransmitters decreases, messages are sent more slowly, causing feelings of depression. The result is the depressive phase.

When medicine may be prescribed

Medicines can be helpful in bipolar disorder by lessening symptoms and/or changing chemicals in the brain.

The medicine most often prescribed to treat bipolar disorder is lithium. It replaces the sodium in the brain cells so the neurotransmitters send messages at a normal rate of speed. Other types of medicines that may be prescribed include anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics.

close icon
Lithium

Lithium is used to treat mania that is part of bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness). It is also used on a daily basis to reduce the frequency and severity of manic episodes.

Learn more about litium in our health library.

How bipolar disorder medicines work

Medicines to treat bipolar disorders work by changing the way nerves receive the neurotransmitters. The nerve that receives the message is less excitable. It passes the message on at a normal rate of speed. The result is you no longer feel hyperactive.


Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Medicines to Treat the Manic Phase of Bipolar Disorder, mh-ahc-13770
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department
First Published: 10/01/2006
Last Reviewed: 10/01/2006

How nerves pass on messages

A nerve receives a message from your brain. Neurotransmitters (chemicals) send that message to another nerve.









How nerves react to extra sodium

When your brain cells make too much sodium, the nerves become overstimulated.

Example: Suddenly, you may be in a really good mood. Thoughts and ideas may race through your mind. You may speak rapidly and make unrealistic plans. You may not get much sleep. You may take risks, or suddenly find yourself irritable or distracted.




How lithium (medicine) helps

Medicine to treat bipolar disorder works by replacing the sodium with lithium. The neurotransmitters pass along messages at a normal speed.

The lithium helps regulate mood so you don't have mood swings. It also slows down your racing thoughts.

close icon
Lithium

Lithium is used to treat mania that is part of bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness). It is also used on a daily basis to reduce the frequency and severity of manic episodes.

Learn more about litium in our health library.


Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Medicines to Treat the Manic Phase of Bipolar Disorder, mh-ahc-13770
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department
First Published: 10/01/2006
Last Reviewed: 10/01/2006