Medication is the most effective way to treat bipolar disorder, but it’s not a cure. Most people still have symptoms even when taking medication as prescribed. That’s just how bipolar disorder works right now. There are three different types of medication used for depressive episodes, manic episodes and maintenance therapy: lithium, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. Most patients take a combination of medications. One such antipsychotic is aripiprazole (brand name Abilify). A recent analysis looked at several factors regarding aripiprazole, including its safety and effectiveness.

Since there are so many options available for medication, sometimes patients need to change medications in order to find what is most effective. I’ve been going through the process recently because of an acute manic episode. My psychiatrist put me on one medication that didn’t work and was causing side effects. Since it wasn’t working she put me on a different medication, Abilify. So when an email hit my inbox this week about a study on Abilify, I was glad to get to know this drug a little better.

Led by Dian-Jeng Li of Kaohsiung Municipal Kai-Syuan Psychiatric Hospital, the authors of this study looked at 20 different studies regarding aripiprazole to study its effectiveness and safety profile. Some of these studies compared aripiprazole to other medications like haloperidol (Haldol) and lithium. Many of the studies simply compared Abilify to placebo.

Regarding effectiveness, this is what they found:

  • Aripiprazole was significantly more effective than placebo at treating acute mania.
  • At low doses, aripiprazole is not significantly effective when compared with placebo.
  • Aripiprazole significantly improved symptom levels.
  • It is significantly more effective than placebo at improving psychotic features.
  • Relapse rates were significantly lower with aripiprazole compared to placebo.
  • Aripiprazole was not more effective at treating depression than haloperidol or lithium.
  • One study found that aripiprazole was more effective at treating symptoms than haloperidol or lithium, but others found no difference.

Regarding effects on general health they found:

  • Compared to placebo, aripiprazole showed a lower risk for elevated fasting glucose and increased appetite.
  • Those taking aripiprazole showed no significant increase in BMI or body weight.
  • Aripiprazole was associated with an increased level of HDL cholesterol.

Regarding side effects experienced while taking aripiprazole compared to placebo, they found higher rates of:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Akathisia
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Over-sedation
  • Pain in the extremities

 

Any medication is going to come with risks and side effects. Antipsychotics do tend to have more significant side effects compared to other medications, but can also be incredibly effective. Abilify has been shown to be a very effective treatment for bipolar disorder in regards to acute mania, psychosis and as a maintenance therapy. There is also evidence that it is effective at treating depression. That does not mean it is right for everyone, which is why there are many options for medications to treat bipolar disorder. Hopefully this one will work for me.

 

**Never change doses of your medication or discontinue use without consulting a medical professional as you may experience life-threatening withdrawal effects.**

 

 

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons