Common Mood Stabilizers Used For Treating Bipolar Disorder & Its Side Effects

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder in which the affected individual suffers from extreme shifts in mood. The patient’s mood in bipolar disorder can go from high to low within a matter of minutes. Bipolar disorder condition is also known as manic depression. People suffering from bipolar disorder have trouble going about their daily tasks, such as going to school or work, maintaining stable relationships etc. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but there are many treatments that can help you deal with its symptoms and live a better quality of life. Mood stabilizers are one such treatment option that has shown promise in reducing the symptoms of bipolar disorder and of course, in uplifting your mood. Mood stabilizers work by balancing specific neurotransmitters in the brain that are responsible for controlling behavior and a person’s emotional state. So which mood stabilizers work in bipolar disorder and how do they function? Let us take a look.

Common Mood Stabilizers Used For Treating Bipolar Disorder

Overview of Bipolar Disorder

Categorized as a mental illness, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme shifts in a person’s moods. Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder has no cure and people suffering from this mental disorder face difficulty in managing their everyday tasks. A person with bipolar disorder, undergoing an emotional high, feels extremely excited, full of energy and impulsive. They engage in behavior such as drug use, spending sprees, uncontrolled drinking etc. Meanwhile, when experiencing an emotional low, the patient tends to experience deep feelings of sadness, loss of energy, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in their daily activities, and an overall feeling of hopelessness. There are several different types of bipolar disorder, but there are many treatment options that help people deal with the symptoms of bipolar disorder, regardless of which type of the condition they have.

What are Mood Stabilizers and How Do They Help in Bipolar Disorder?

Mood stabilizers are medications that are used to treat and prevent the fluctuations in moods that are associated with bipolar disorder. With the help of mood stabilizers, a person suffering from bipolar disorder does not experience the highs (known as mania) and lows (depression) episodes. These mood stabilizers also stop your moods from interfering with your daily life. Some of these mood stabilizers are also known as anticonvulsants. While some of these medications treat mania better, others are more useful for depression. Your doctor will be the best person to prescribe which mood stabilizer is ideal for you keeping in mind your bipolar disorder symptoms.

Available in the form of tablets, syrup, capsules, or chewable tablets, mood stabilizers help in bipolar disorder by balancing specific neurotransmitters that are responsible for controlling our emotional states and also our behavior. It is important to mention, though, that the term mood stabilizer does not actually mean that you will not have any more mood fluctuations. Even after taking your medications, you might still experience the occasional mood swings during the day.

What Are The Common Mood Stabilizers Used For Treating Bipolar Disorder?

Let us now look at some of the major mood stabilizers that your doctor may recommend for treating bipolar disorder.


One of the most popular mood stabilizers prescribed by doctors, lithium helps in balancing out emotional highs and lows that are characteristic of bipolar disorder. Lithium is better suited for those who experience a mania (feeling euphoric) episode when compared to those who are experiencing depression. Lithium starts working in about 10 to 14 days and it takes nearly three to four weeks for the medication to start showing an effect and around six to seven weeks to experience any relief in bipolar symptoms. Lithium has had very good reviews and nearly 50% of all patients who try lithium show improvement. A further 40% of people show improvements once an additional medication is added to lithium or after trying another mood stabilizer.

After beginning lithium, doctors will check your blood levels of lithium twice in one week. This will taper off to once in every two weeks. Once patients become stable on lithium, then blood levels will be checked once in every six months or even once in a year. Apart from checking lithium levels in the blood, a renal function test may also be recommended, as lithium is primarily processed by the kidneys. The function of the thyroid gland is also tested once a year as lithium may affect the thyroid.

Valproic Acid (Brand Name Depakote)

Valproic acid or valproate has been used for the treatment of mania since 1995. This mood stabilizer drug is beneficial for patients who have a history of depression as well as mania and furthermore in patients with a history of other mental conditions, head trauma or drug abuse. Valproic acid starts to have an effect within a week to 14 days. Most doctors take around three weeks to adjust the dosage of this mood stabilizer for bipolar disorder.

Carbamazepine (Brand Name Tegretol)

Carbamazepine has been used extensively for the treatment of bipolar disorder, but the drug is actually not officially approved by the US FDA. Patients having early-onset of bipolar disorder and patients who have no previous history of mood disorders, benefit the most from this drug. Carbamazepine starts working within seven to 14 days and if no improvement is experienced within three weeks, doctors discontinue the use of this mood stabilizer, as it can be assumed that the drug is not suitable for the patient. Carbamazepine tends to wear off with time and there is also a risk of drug interactions, therefore, doctors tend to prescribe this less frequently or in combination with another mood stabilizer.

What are the Side Effects of Mood Stabilizers?

Just like all medications have side effects, mood stabilizers are also known to have some side effects. However, most people do not feel them much and even if they occur, patients are able to deal with them. Some of the common side effects of mood stabilizers include:

  • Trembling.
  • Vomiting or nausea.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Weight gain in the first few weeks of use.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Increased need to pass urine.
  • Drowsiness for the first few weeks.


More than 60 million people around the world are affected by bipolar disorder. The best way to benefit from mood stabilizers is to educate yourself about how these medications can benefit your condition. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder. Only begin a course of mood stabilizers if your doctor advises you to. Never self-medicate, as it might just worsen your symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 23, 2019

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