Mixing and Matching Medication a Challenge for Bipolar Patients

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Treating bipolar disorder can be so complicated that a patient ends up taking a variety of medications. A recent study investigated the challenges facing patients required to take multiple medications to treat their symptoms.

There is a high rate of comorbidity among those diagnosed with mental disorders. For instance, individuals diagnosed with depression also have a high rate of substance abuse, and people with post-traumatic stress disorder often report symptoms of anxiety or depression. As a result, mental health screenings are often conducted in the initial treatment phase for any mental disorder. This approach can make treatment complicated, but not addressing additional disorders may be detrimental to the patient and keep them from recovering. As the medical community moves to a more inclusive treatment strategy, additional mental disorders are often identified as a patient receives treatment.

The study by researchers at Brown University examined the treatment of 230 patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder. They were all admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Rhode Island during 2010. The researchers found that over half of the patients had been prescribed at least three psychiatric medications, and more than one-third were taking at least four. Approximately one-fifth of patients were not taking any psychiatric medications.

The analysis showed that gender played a role in the way that bipolar was being treated, or it may have reflected the symptoms that were present between the genders. Women were more likely than men to have been prescribed at least four psychiatric medications. Women made up 58 percent of the individuals enrolled in the study, but they accounted for 68 percent of the patients that had a complex polypharmacy.

Women were also more likely to be taking medications that are controversial in their role for treating bipolar disorder, according to lead author Lauren Weinstock, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University. These medications include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and stimulant.

The patients, who were also taking medications for unrelated health problems, were taking an average of six separate medications. Combining so many meds can be dangerous, leading to drug interactions. Patients may also fail to take them as prescribed and experience high costs.

Weinstock says that the findings reflect the challenges that patients face in trying to address the complex set of symptoms that accompany bipolar disorder, and called for the advancement of science and the treatment of the disorder to reduce the burden on patients and the medical community.

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