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Mood-Stabilizing Medicines for Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia

Examples

Generic Name Brand Name
lithium Lithobid

The above medicines are taken as tablets or capsules (orally).

Generic Name Brand Name
carbamazepine Equetro, Tegretol
lamotrigine Lamictal
valproic acid Depakene, Depakote

These medicines are available in syrup, tablet, capsule, and chewable tablet forms.

How It Works

Mood stabilizers balance certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that control emotional states and behavior.

Why It Is Used

Mood stabilizers can help to treat mania and to prevent the return of both manic and depressive episodes in bipolar disorder. They may also help for treat the mood problems associated with schizophrenia, such as depression.

Some of these medicines are also used to treat some types of seizures. They are also known as anticonvulsants.

How Well It Works

Mood stabilizers, especially lithium, valproic acid, and carbamazepine, may provide relief from acute episodes of mania or depression and can help prevent them from recurring.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives, a rash, fever, or swollen glands.
  • Signs of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which causes dangerous sores on the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, genitals, and eyelids.
  • Confusion.
  • Slurred speech.

Common side effects of these medicines include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • Trembling.
  • Increased thirst and increased need to urinate.
  • Weight gain in the first few months of use.
  • Drowsiness.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Some of these drugs are also called anticonvulsants. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning on anticonvulsants and the risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts. The FDA does not recommend that people stop using these medicines. Instead, people who take anticonvulsant medicine should be watched closely for warning signs of suicide. People who take anticonvulsant medicine and who are worried about this side effect should talk to a doctor.

Do not stop taking these medicines suddenly. You should taper off of these drugs slowly with the help of your doctor to avoid negative and serious side effects.

Your doctor may want you to have regular blood tests to check your medicine levels, liver function, and blood counts. Your doctor will need to periodically test the function of your kidneys and thyroid gland if you are taking lithium.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Women who use this medicine during pregnancy have a slightly higher chance of having a baby with birth defects. If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you and your doctor must weigh the risks of using this medicine against the risks of not treating your condition.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised August 31, 2012

Last Revised: August 31, 2012

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