How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated?


Healthgrades Editorial Staff

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Upset woman at a counseling session

The overall treatment goal for people living with bipolar disorder is to minimize mood swings and other symptoms so that they can live functional and productive lives. Other psychiatric conditions are common among people with bipolar disorder, especially anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and personality disorders. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, and treatment generally needs to be lifelong to most effectively control symptoms. The most effective treatment plans employ a multifaceted approach:

  • Medications are prescribed to stabilize extremes of mood that occur with bipolar disorder. Medications may include mood stabilizers, such as lithium, antipsychotics, and perhaps antidepressants. It is essential to take all of your medications as prescribed. Do not adjust or discontinue drug dosages without first consulting with the prescribing doctor.
  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a type of therapy in which a psychotherapist builds a relationship with a client, establishes trust, and helps a client to better cope with bipolar disorder through a variety of forms of psychotherapy, such as family therapy and behavior therapy. These techniques can help people to recognize and work through the issues associated with bipolar disorder. 
  • Ongoing outpatient psychiatric and medical care is important to help monitor the effectiveness of treatment and to assess for side effects and safe levels of medications.
  • Inpatient care may be necessary in some cases in which symptoms become so serious that a person is unable to safely care for basic needs and/or has becomes suicidal or a danger to himself, herself or others. In some cases, a person may need to be legally hospitalized against his or her will.

What are the possible complications of bipolar disorder?

Complications of bipolar disorder can be serious and even become life threatening in some cases. You can minimize the risk for serious complications of bipolar disorder by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you.

Complications of bipolar disorder include:

  • Decreased ability to function effectively in work, school or daily life
  • Delirium (mental confusion)
  • Disability
  • Paranoia
  • Poor quality of life
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Self-harm
  • Violent behavior
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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 25, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Bipolar Disorder. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Mental Health.
  2. Bipolar Disorder. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  3. Bipolar Disorder. American Academy of Family Physicians.
  4. Skjelstad DV, Malt UF, Holte A. Symptoms and signs of the initial prodrome of bipolar disorder: a systematic review. J Affect Disord. 2010; 126:1.
  5. Sala R, et al. Course of comorbid anxiety disorders among adults with bipolar disorder in the U.S. population. J Psychiatr Res. 2012; 46:865.

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