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What mood stabilizers are used to treat bipolar disorder?

Medications are considered mood stabilizers if they have two properties:
  • They provide relief from acute episodes of mania or depression, or prevent them from occurring; and
  • They do not worsen depression or mania or lead to increased cycling.
Lithium, divalproex and carbamazepine have been shown to meet this definition; the first two are the best established and most widely used. Divalproex and carbamazepine were originally developed as anticonvulsants for the control of epilepsy, another brain disorder. Other available medications that are undergoing research as promising mood stabilizers include several new anticonvulsants and the newer "atypical" antipsychotics. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also considered a mood-stabilizing treatment.
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
For almost half a century, lithium has been the mainstay for treating people with bipolar disorder mania, but it can cause uncomfortable side effects and requires repeated blood tests to check your lithium levels. Today, there are additional mood stabilizers, such as the anti-seizure medications divalproex sodium (Depakote®) and lamotrigine (Lamictal®). Lamotrigine is used specifically to treat acute depression in bipolar I and II and to promote remission between mood episodes. Lamictal has tolerable side effects and rarely causes serious problems. Both anti-seizure medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for bipolar disorder.

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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.