Author(s): Solomon DA, Keitner GI, Miller IW, Shea MT, Keller MB
BACKGROUND: Both naturalistic studies and treatment research on bipolar disorder are reviewed to describe its clinical course, the need for maintenance therapy, the efficacy of current pharmacologic prophylaxis, and the empirical basis for more comprehensive approaches to treatment.
METHOD: Articles were identified through computerized literature searches and from bibliographies of published studies, review articles, and textbooks.
RESULTS: Bipolar disorder is marked by multiple relapses and recurrences, as well as significant interepisode psychopathology. Within 1 year of recovery from a mood episode, half of all patients will have suffered a second episode. Various clinical and demographic variables have been investigated as risk factors for recurrence. Although lithium represents the single greatest advance in the treatment of this disease, it is clear that a substantial number of patients fail lithium prophylaxis, including those with a high frequency of prior episodes, mixed (dysphoric) mania, comorbid personality disturbance, and rapid cycling. The foremost pharmacologic alternatives to lithium are the anticonvulsants carbamazepine and valproate. Increased recognition of the psychosocial sequelae of bipolar disorder and the limitations of pharmacotherapy alone have led to the investigation of psychosocial interventions. These preliminary studies are small in number and of poor quality for the most part, but have nevertheless yielded positive findings.
CONCLUSION: Although lithium often fails to meet the clearly established need for prophylactic treatment, there is little evidence from rigorous clinical trials to support the wide-spread use of anticonvulsants in maintenance therapy. Treatment research should further examine these medications and the use of psychosocial treatments as adjuvants to pharmacotherapy.