Study Findings Question Treating Bipolar Disorder with Antidepressants
A study out of China’s Mental Health Institute of Central South University examined the use of antidepressants in treating bipolar disorder using a double-blind randomized controlled trial that included large sample sizes. The research also included additional studies that featured homogeneous patient samples.
To test treatments for bipolar disorder in research, the trial must be a double-blind randomized controlled design, and participants included must not be taking antipsychotic medications. By focusing only on the studies that meet these high demands, the investigators seeking new treatments can be sure that the analysis is objective.
The Chinese study did not support the use of antidepressants in treating patients with bipolar disorder, with the drugs being no more effective than a placebo. In addition, the long-term use of antidepressants did not result in measurable improvements in response or remission.
Bipolar disorder can be debilitating. It is characterized by extreme mood swings that can reach a low level of depression in addition to reduced energy and a lack of motivation. In its manic stage, it is known for high levels of energy and irritability. It can be extremely difficult to diagnose and the swings in mania and depression can make treatment challenging.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are not generally mistaken for the everyday ups and downs that mentally healthy people experience. A patient with bipolar disorder may focus on death and suicide, lose all interest in previously engaging activities on a down swing, and then engage in risky, pleasurable activities and become extremely restless in a manic period.
In many situations, physicians mistake bipolar disorder for depression because patients often demonstrate only the depressive symptoms when they are discussing their mental health with a doctor. In addition, the patient may experience symptoms in a mixed state, such as feeling hopeless and sad but restless with trouble sleeping, making diagnosis difficult.
It’s unclear what causes bipolar disorder, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the factors involved are likely varied. Genetics may play a role as well as other physiological causes, such as brain structure.
The Chinese study’s findings, which were published in the journal Neural Regeneration Research, help to highlight the need for additional research and may help guide future studies that test the use of antidepressants for mental health disorders including bipolar disorder. Side effects associated with antidepressants can include irritability, nausea, headaches and a reduced sex drive that can affect both men and women taking the medications.