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Mood-stabilizing drugs

Mood-stabilizing drugs are used to treat severe psychiatric disorders involving excessive mood swings.

Common drugs

Mood-stabilizing drugs
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  • Carbamazepine
  • Lithium
  • Valproic acid

Mood-stabilizing drugs are used for the treatment of bipolar affective disorder, which is also known as manicdepressive disorder, and less commonly for severe depression. In bipolar affective disorder, cycles of mania (elation) and severe depression may occur. Lithium is the drug most commonly used to treat this disorder and can control or reduce the intensity of mania. It may also prevent or reduce the frequency of attacks and lift depression. Two other drugs, carbamazepine and valproic acid, may be used as mood stabilizers if lithium is ineffective in treating bipolar affective disorder or if it causes unacceptable side effects.

How are mood-stabilizing drugs used?

Lithium is taken orally. It may take up to about 3 weeks before the drug's effects are noticeable and several weeks more for it to take full effect. For this reason, a rapidly acting antipsychotic drug is often prescribed at the same time for initial control of mania. Lithium will then be continued to prevent further episodes.

Treatment with lithium can cause nausea, diarrhoea, tremor, and excessive thirst. These side effects usually reduce in severity if treatment is continued. If the dose is too high, lithium can cause blurred vision, confusion, and seizures. Carbamazepine and valproic acid may be given if lithium is unsuitable, but may cause memory and coordination problems. Your doctor may carry out blood tests to measure drug levels during treatment with mood-stabilizing drugs.

If you are taking lithium, you will be given a treatment card, bracelet, or pendant, which you should carry with you at all times. You should be careful not make changes in your diet that might alter the amount of salt you take in because this may affect lithium levels in your body. It is also important to avoid dehydration, which may occur if you develop diarrhoea or vomiting or travel to a region with a hot climate.

Posted 09.09.2010

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