Applied Evidence

A primary care guide to bipolar depression treatment

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Recommendations, best options for acute bipolar depression

Start with lithium, lamotrigine, quetiapine, or lurasidone as the first-line medication at the dosages given in Table 3.21,22 Olanzapine alone, or in combination with fluoxetine, can be used when it has been determined that the medications listed above are ineffective.

Medications commonly used to treat bipolar depression

Note that lithium requires regular blood monitoring (Table 321,22). However, lithium has the advantage of strong supporting evidence of benefit in all mood episodes of bipolar disorders (depressive, manic, hypomanic), as well as maintenance, prevention of recurrence, and anti-suicidal properties.

Medications commonly used to treat bipolar depression

Also of note: Lurasidone is much more costly than other recommended medications because it is available only by brand name in the United States; the other agents are available as generics. Consider generic equivalents of the recommended agents when cost is an important factor, in part because of the impact that cost has on medication adherence for some patients.

Medications commonly used to treat bipolar depression

Last, olanzapine should be used later in the treatment algorithm, unless rapid control of symptoms is needed or other first-line medications are ineffective or not tolerated—given the higher propensity of the drug to produce weight gain and cause metabolic problems, including obesity and hyperglycemia.

The importance of maintenance therapy

Almost all patients with BD require maintenance treatment to prevent subsequent episodes, reduce residual symptoms, and restore functioning and quality of life. Maintenance therapy is formulated on the basis of efficacy and tolerability in the individual patient.

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