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Treating Bipolar Disorder Poses an Ongoing Challenge

Published by: Justin Peck | March 27, 2017

For those who struggle with bipolar disorder — as well as for their friends and family — the ongoing quest for effective treatment can be frustrating.

This elusive and often misunderstood mental disorder frustrates doctors and patients alike. Successful treatment typically involves extensive trial and error, and the ongoing input of a team of specialists.

CHALLENGES START WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER DIAGNOSIS

For many patients, bipolar disorder is misdiagnosed as depression or other mood disorders.

Practitioners who aren’t familiar with the unique indications of bipolar disorder may have difficulty making a correct diagnosis. However, misdiagnosis can also occur because the patients themselves don’t recognize their highs as manic episodes.

The American Psychological Association (APA) highlighted this challenge, citing incorrect assessment instruments as another potential cause of misdiagnoses.

THE CHALLENGE OF DRUG SELECTION FOR TREATING BIPOLAR DISORDER

Many different medications can be used for treating bipolar symptoms. Unfortunately, finding the right one for any given patient is a matter of trial and error. Medical imaging technology has not progressed sufficiently to provide direction in prescribing medication.

Because bipolar disorder consists of both manic and depressive episodes, doctors must prescribe different medications to address specific symptoms. For those patients who cycle quickly between highs and lows, finding a harmonious balance is especially difficult.

Patients and their loved ones can become frustrated with the time it takes to see if the latest medication will help. Most drugs require several months to reach full efficacy, which can seem like a lifetime to those who suffer from severe symptoms. Consequently, many patients discontinue their treatment prematurely.

Side effects are also an ongoing challenge of psychoactive medication, prompting many patients to deviate from their prescribed dosage, or to discontinue taking their medication. Although new treatment protocols are being tested, no “miracle cure” is on the horizon.

Keeping patients on their treatment regimens also poses a challenge. Once they become regulated and healthy, many bipolar patients believe they’re “cured,” and stop taking their meds. Education is one of the most powerful ways to ensure that patients continue their treatment. This includes learning to recognize warning signs and trigger factors, managing stress and following a formal wellness plan.

MANY PATIENTS LACK THE RESOURCES FOR EFFECTIVE BIPOLAR TREATMENT

As you can see, diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder is an complex process that requires lifelong attention. Unfortunately, many patients do not have access to the resources necessary to meet this need.

Start by visiting your family doctor or primary care physician for recommendations. Treatment for any serious mental health issue will also require the services of a psychiatrist or another mental health professional who has experience with the particular disorder and the methods used to treat it.

For a comprehensive list of resources, the National Institute of Mental Health has compiled a handy reference page for obtaining bipolar treatment. This site also provides information for family and friends.