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Understanding the Basics of Bipolar Disorder

It is estimated that four percent of U.S. adults experience bipolar disorder at some time in their lives. Unfortunately, the majority of people (an estimated 82.9 percent) with bipolar disorder experience serious impairment, the highest percentage of serious impairment among all mood disorders.

While relatively few people experience the disorder, it can be helpful to understand it in the event that you or a loved one ever need to seek treatment.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

The Mayo Clinic defines bipolar disorder as “a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).” While there is no “typical” case, patients report deep depressions, where they feel sad, hopeless, and lose interest in most activities. When that depression lifts, they may feel extreme feelings in the opposite direction – euphoric, full of energy, or unusually irritable. These mood swings may affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior, and the ability to think clearly.

What is the Bipolar Disorder Spectrum?

Some experts are beginning to find that there is a range of how people experience bipolar disorder – a spectrum where one end is unipolar (serious depression) and the other end is bipolar I (bipolar disorder). What exists in the middle is characterized as the bipolar II spectrum , a wide variance of symptoms that are unique to each person.

How is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

Although bipolar disorder is considered by many to be a lifelong condition, patients can manage mood swings and other symptoms by following a treatment plan – usually including medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy).

According to the Mayo Clinic, bipolar treatment may include:

  • Mood stabilizers , such as lithium (Lithobid), valproic acid (Depakene), divalproex sodium (Depakote), carbamazepine (Tegretol, Equetro, others), and lamotrigine (Lamictal).
  • Antipsychotics, such as olanzapine (Zyprexa), risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel), aripiprazole (Abilify), ziprasidone (Geodon), lurasidone (Latuda), or asenapine (Saphris)
  • Antidepressants, usually prescribed along with a mood stabilizer or antipsychotic
  • Antidepressant-antipsychotics, such as Symbyax, combine the antidepressant fluoxetine and the antipsychotic olanzapine, working as a depression treatment and a mood stabilizer
  • Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, which may help with anxiety and improve sleep on a short-term basis

Common Side Effects of Bipolar Medications

The side effects from the medications listed above can vary greatly from drug to drug and patient to patient. Some commonly reported side effects may include:

  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Hair loss
  • Sexual problems
  • Weight gain
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Diarrhea
  • Belly pain
  • Skin reaction

Always speak with your pharmacist or doctor if you experience any side effects from a medication.

Affording Your Prescription Medications

Staying on your medication as prescribed, or medication adherence , is a huge part of treating bipolar disorders. Regardless ofwhether or not you have health insurance , there are many resources available to help you and your family afford critical medications.

One of the easiest ways to save money on mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and other bipolar medications, is to download an Rx drug discount card to use every time you visit the pharmacy. Most prescription discount programs, including FamilyWize, are completely free to use and can help lower your medication costs significantly. FamilyWize helps patients save an average of 45 percent on their prescriptions.

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