Side Effects of Bipolar Medication and How to Treat Them
Rigidly sticking to a treatment plan, including taking bipolar meds as prescribed every day, is critical in successfully treating bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, there are many side effects of bipolar medication that people find intolerable. Sometimes these bipolar disorder medication side effects make people stop taking their medication. But stopping medication can make someone rapidly worse, possibly manic or suicidal. There are better ways of dealing with bipolar medication side effects.
Suicide and Bipolar Medication
While suicide associated with medication is rare, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mandated that a warning be placed on anticonvulsant medication. The warning states that their use may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
A similar warning has been placed on antidepressants, particularly emphasized in adolescents and young adults. Antidepressants are used less frequently in the treatment of bipolar disorder due to the risk of inducing rapid cycling or manic episodes.
For anyone starting these medications, mood should be carefully monitored and any changes (either worsening bipolar depression or bipolar mania) should be brought to the doctor's attention immediately. Patients should not alter their medication schedule without talking to a doctor.
Temporary Bipolar Medication Side Effects
Many of the side effects initially considered extremely bothersome will diminish over time. While medications and individuals are all different, bipolar medication side effects that tend to diminish include:1
- Diarrhea, constipation
- Nausea, bloating or indigestion
- Blurred vision
- Rapid heartbeat
- Skin rash
Any side effect of bipolar medication could be a symptom of a larger issue and should always be reported to a doctor.
Managing Bipolar Medication Side Effects
Most other side effects of bipolar medication are tolerable or can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Some common bipolar medication side effects and possible treatment include:
- Restlessness, anxiety – altering the medication dosage or adding a medication can reduce this side effect. Destressing activities like meditation and yoga may also be helpful.
- Dry mouth –treated by an over-the-counter gum or spray designed to enhance saliva production.
- Acne –prescription or over-the-counter treatments are available.
- Unusual discomfort to cold temperatures – lifestyle changes like avoiding cold weather or dressing more warmly can be used.
- Joint or muscle pain – over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin and ibuprofen) can be used.
- Heartburn – lifestyle changes can reduce heartburn. Over-the-counter and prescription medications are also available.
- Mood swings –typically handled by adjusting drug dosage and prescribed drug(s).
- Sensitivity to the sun – lifestyle changes like staying out of the sun, wearing protective clothing and using sunscreen can be used.
- Menstrual problems for women – must be addressed individually, but adjusting hormone levels (for example, by taking a birth control pill) may be useful.
- Sexual problems – changing medications or sexual aid medications may be used.
All bipolar medication side effects, whether tolerable or not, need to be reported to a doctor to rule out the possibility of something more serious.
Last Updated: 28 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD