Question: How does the bipolar medication regimen change depending on the phase of illness?
Answer: It is true that most patients with bipolar disorder will be expected to take different medications in different phases of illness. This is because the different phases of illness present with symptoms which can be treated with one class of medications, but not another. Having said that, the major theme in the medication treatment of bipolar disorder is that most people will need to be taking a mood-stabilizing medication. These medications include lithium, anti-seizure medications like Depakote or Tegretol, and most recently, some of the newer anti-psychotic medications like Zyprexa or Risperdal. These mood-stabilizing medications make it less likely that patients with bipolar disorder will relapse into a mood episode.
If a person with bipolar disorder is depressed, it's likely that they will have to try other medications. Other, different kinds of mood-stabilizing medications may be helpful, and sometimes anti-depressants are needed. There's some debate about what is the best way to help a person who's depressed if they have bipolar disorder. In addition if the patient has psychotic symptoms, they may need to take anti-psychotic medications. Oftentimes it's common for people with bipolar disorder to feel anxiety symptoms, and there are medications to address those issues as well. So all in all, because the presentations of bipolar disorder are so different depending on the phase that a person is in, they may need to take different medications.