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How are antidepressant medications used to treat bipolar disorder?

Antidepressants treat the symptoms of depression. In bipolar disorder, antidepressants must be used together with a mood stabilizing medication. If used without a mood stabilizer, an antidepressant can push a person with bipolar disorder into a manic state.

Many types of antidepressants are available with different chemical mechanisms of action and side effect profiles. Most research with antidepressants has been done in people with unipolar depression—people who have never had a manic episode. In unipolar depression, the available medications are about equally effective. There has been little research on the use of antidepressants in bipolar disorder, but most experts consider the following 3 types to be first choices:
  • Bupropion (Wellbutrin)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors: fluoxetine (Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor)
If these do not work, or if they cause unpleasant side effects, the other choices are:
  • Mirtazapine (Remeron)
  • Nefazodone (Serzone)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors: phenelzine (Nardil), tranylcypromine (Parnate). These are very effective but also require you to stay on a special diet to avoid dangerous side effects.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: amitriptyline (Elavil), desipramine (Norpramin, Pertofrane), imipramine (Tofranil), nortriptyline (Pamelor). Tricyclics may be more likely to cause side effects or to set off manic episodes or rapid cycling.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.