What About Side Effects of Medications for Bipolar Disorder?
A list of common bipolar medication side-effects, why some are so serious, and a mood and medication side-effects chart for you to use.
Gold Standard for Treating Bipolar Disorder (part 6)
Side effects are the number one reason people with bipolar disorder stop taking their medications. And for many, one bad experience leads to the idea that no medication will be helpful. This is an unfortunate decision, as many side-effects can either lessen over time or be managed with medication dosage changes, adding a new drug or switching to a drug that you are more able to tolerate. Because people with bipolar disorder usually take more than one medication, it's important that side-effects be monitored and taken seriously by a healthcare professional. The goal is to find a balance between the efficacy (effectiveness) of the medication and its potential side-effects.
Common Bipolar Medication Side-effects
- Dry mouth
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Lack of appetite and weight loss
- Sexual side effects
- Fatigue, drowsiness
- Waking up too early and unable to go back to sleep
- Blurred vision
- Agitation, restlessness, anxiety
- Irritation and anger
- Suicidal thoughts
The side-effects from bipolar medications can feel overwhelming at first. While some people experience few drug side-effects and are able to find relief from their first medications, others may have to work on the dosage and/or try other medications before finding one that can be tolerated. It's often true that side-effects can end or lessen over time. This is why it's so important for you to give your medications a chance, usually 8-12 weeks, before deciding they will never work.
It must be said that there are some side-effects that are intolerable such as suicidal thoughts or excessive weight gain. This is when contacting your healthcare professional is essential. You can then work together to find a medication that you are better able to tolerate.
Why Are Bipolar Disorder Side-effects So Serious?
Many people are used to and expect that drugs used to treat cancer will have side-effects such as hair loss and other physical problems. And yet when similarly intense side-effects result from bipolar disorder medications, people are often shocked and discouraged from treatment. Medications for bipolar disorder work by regulating brain chemicals such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Unfortunately, it's impossible to harpoon a drug directly into the brain. It first travels through your body, possibly causing a host of problems, before it reaches its target.
For many people, excessive weight gain, possible diabetes, lack of sexual desire or ability, physical discomfort from stomach problems or severe tiredness are unacceptable. For others, just being stable enough to function is a trade off for certain side-effects. This is another area where you need to talk with your healthcare professional and work together to find medications that truly work for you. Taking the time to do this is a better choice than going off your first medications and assuming that other medications will have the same problems. Though it may take much longer than you hoped, there is always a chance that you will find medications that do help you find stability with a minimum of side-effects.
Tracking Your Moods and Medication Side-effects
Tracking the ups and downs of bipolar disorder on a mood chart is an excellent way for you to see your specific mood patterns so that you can receive more effective treatment. You can write down what has happened on the days of severe mood swings as well as chart your medication side-effects. This can be invaluable information for you and your medications healthcare professional. Here you can download a mood monitoring chart.
Last Updated: 27 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD