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Top Ten Bipolar Medicines

author image Hannah Rice Myers
Based in Jamestown, Pa., Hannah Rice Myers has more than 10 years of experience as a freelance writer, specializing in the health industry. Many of her articles have appeared in newspapers, as well as "Curing Epilepsy: Hope Through Research." Rice Myers received her master's degree in nursing from Upstate Medical University in 2001.

Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes extreme mood swings. Periods of mania, or euphoric highs, are typically followed by periods of severe depression. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance says nearly 5.7 Americans over the age of 18 are diagnosed every year. While bipolar is a debilitating condition, a variety of medications can successfully treat the symptoms. These medications fall into three categories--antipsychotics, antidepressants and anticonvulsants (used as mood stabilizers)--and can be ranked according to the numbers prescribed annually.

Quetiapine (Seroquel)

Quetiapine, an antipsychotic, is used to treat psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions in those with bipolar. While typically used for short-term treatment, it may also be used for long-term treatment. The most common side effects, according to drugs.com, are dizziness and nausea. Women may experience swelling of the breasts or changes in the menstrual cycle.

Topiramate (Topamax)

Topiramate, an anticonvulsant, is often used as a mood stabilizer in bipolar disorder. According to emedtv.com, lithium was the first mood-stabilizing drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since then, anticonvulsants have been found to be equally effective for this purpose, especially in patients who cannot tolerate lithium. The most common side effects of topiramate are problems with memory or concentration, insomnia and headaches.

Lamotrigine (Lamictal)

Lamotrigine, another anticonvulsant, is the third most frequently prescribed medication for bipolar disorder, according to realmentalhealth.com. Used as a mood stabilizer, it helps control the symptoms of mania while preventing recurrent manic and depressive episodes. Possible side effects include drowsiness, diarrhea, upset stomach and loss of coordination.

Aripiprazole (Abilify)

Used to treat both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, aripiprazole is another antipsychotic that helps relieve delusional thoughts and hallucinations. The most common side effects include problems with swallowing, which may lead to choking; constipation; and insomnia.

Risperidone (Risperdal)

An antipsychotic, risperidone also works to help relieve the symptoms of an acute (sudden) manic episode, which is why this and other antipsychotics are primarily prescribed for the short term. If psychotic symptoms are experienced along with bipolar symptoms, antipsychotics such as risperidone may be used as a long-term maintenance drug. The most common side effects include mild restlessness, weight gain, blurred vision and nausea.

Depakote ER

Depakote ER is another anticonvulsant and mood stabilizer. This form of Depakote is extended release, meaning it is released slowly into the body throughout the day. According to emedtv.com, it was approved by the FDA in 1995 for treating mania and is also effective in warding off depressive episodes. The most common side effects are digestive problems such as upset stomach, constipation and diarrhea; tremors; and changes in weight.

Olanzapine (Zyprexa)

Olanzapine, yet another antipsychotic, is number 7, according to realmentalhealth.com. It comes in the form of tablets that are to be dissolved on the tongue. Side effects may include weakness, dry mouth, back pain and upset stomach.


Depakote is the same as Depakote ER but is not extended release. It has the same side effects as Depakote ER with the addition of abdominal pain; bruising easily; and flu-like symptoms such as fever, body aches and chills.

Ziprasidone (Geodon)

Ziprasidone, an antipsychotic, is prescribed to more than 2 million patients each year. It is useful for many who may not be able to tolerate other antipsychotics. Possible side effects are constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth and loss of energy.

Paroxetine (Paxil)

The only antidepressant making the top 10 list of bipolar medications, paroxetine may be prescribed for those who suffer from more severe episodes of depression. According to emedtv.com, antidepressants are recommended only for patients taking a mood stabilizer also, as an antidepressant alone can cause a sudden cycling from depression to mania. Frequently reported side effects include nervousness, insomnia, changes in weight and dizziness.

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