Questions about any antidepressant prescribed, or problems that may be related to the medication, should be discussed with the doctor.
Lithium has for many years been the treatment of choice for bipolar disorder, as it can be effective in smoothing out the mood swings common to this disorder. Its use must be carefully monitored, as the range between an effective dose and a toxic one is small. If a person has preexisting thyroid, kidney, or heart disorders or epilepsy, lithium may not be recommended.
Fortunately, other medications have been found to be of benefit in controlling mood swings. Among these are two mood-stabilizing anticonvulsants, carbamazepine (Tegretol™) and valproate (Depakote™). Both of these medications have gained wide acceptance in clinical practice, and valproate has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for first-line treatment of acute mania. Other anticonvulsants that are being used now include lamotrigine (Lamictal™) and gabapentin (Neurontin™): their role in the treatment hierarchy of bipolar disorder remains under study.
Most people who have bipolar disorder take more than one medication including, along with lithium and/or an anticonvulsant, a medication for accompanying agitation, anxiety, depression, or insomnia. Finding the best possible combination of these medications is of utmost importance to the patient and requires close monitoring by the physician.
Side Effects of Antidepressants
Antidepressants may cause mild and, usually, temporary side effects (sometimes referred to as adverse effects) in some people. Typically these are annoying, but not serious. However, any unusual reactions or side effects or those that interfere with functioning should be reported to the doctor immediately. The most common side effects of tricyclic antidepressants, and ways to deal with them, are:
- Dry mouth — it is helpful to drink sips of water; chew sugarless gum; clean teeth daily.
- Constipation — bran cereals, prunes, fruit, and vegetables should be in the diet.
- Bladder problems — emptying the bladder may be troublesome, and the urine stream may not be as strong as usual; the doctor should be notified if there is marked difficulty or pain.
- Sexual problems — sexual functioning may change; if worrisome, it should be discussed with the doctor.
- Blurred vision — this will pass soon and will not usually necessitate new glasses.
- Dizziness — rising from the bed or chair slowly is helpful.
- Drowsiness as a daytime problem — this usually passes soon. A person feeling drowsy or sedated should not drive or operate heavy equipment. The more sedating antidepressants are generally taken at bedtime to help sleep and minimize daytime drowsiness.
The newer antidepressants have different types of side effects:
- Headache — this will usually go away.
- Nausea — this is also temporary, but even when it occurs, it is transient after each dose.
- Nervousness and insomnia (trouble falling asleep or waking often during the night) — these may occur during the first few weeks; dosage reductions or time will usually resolve them.
- Agitation (feeling jittery) — if this happens for the first time after the drug is taken and is more than transient, the doctor should be notified.
- Sexual problems — the doctor should be consulted if the problem is persistent or worrisome.