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Managing Side Effects From Bipolar Medication

Updated on November 28, 2015
Manage bipolar medication side effects, know your medications...
Manage bipolar medication side effects, know your medications...

Manage your side effects

Having been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I don't know which is worse, mania or depression. Not to mention the side effects from some of the tricky combination of bipolar medications. Trying to explain these side effects to your psychiatrist can be a daunting task. I on many occasion want to quit taking the medications because they make me feel terrible and I hate feeling terrible all the time. But if I stop taking all my medications I risk having episodes that run the risk of being very dangerous.

I have gained weight from medications that seem impossible to shed. It is like there is a built in secret ingredient that interferes with your metabolism so you cannot lose weight on bipolar medications. It is not my number one annoyance, but it sure isn't my favorite. Feeling dizzy and off balance bother me much more. I sometimes feel like a freak. And often wonder if I look like one as well. So in essence I find excuses not to take the medication.

There is not a whole lot you can do to make side affects go completely away. It is possible for you to learn how to work with side effects that are not life threatening, and hope eventually the lesser ones will subside a bit, if not altogether. I always sound off to my doctor about the side affects I am having, just so he knows I am having them and dealing with them as best I can. He then can order some blood tests just to make sure it is the medication and not something else. He may prescribe another medication, unfortunately with bipolar meds it is often a process of trying one after another.

If you are just starting out, and are new to taking meds, ask your doctor what the medication is for and what to expect from it. When I have med changes I usually get print-outs and a sheet to sign that I understand the medication I am being prescribed. I make it a point to find out how the medication is going to effect me, if at all. Your doctor should give you the insight you need, but you must ask for it. Or you may be wandering around in the dark. Your pharmacist can guide you as well.

Usually your doctor will titrate your medications up slowly. So your body will get used to the medication gradually. If you are not comfortable with high doses , titrating is an excellent way to start any new medication. If for example you get sick right from the get go, you might not be able to tolerate the medication at all. Usually your doctor will expect you to give a new medication a little time, with the hopes that the side effects will vanish as your body gets use to the new drug. I found this to be the best way to avoid major side effects. Build up slowly.

Manage your meds for the most minimal side effects
Manage your meds for the most minimal side effects | Source

Lessons Learned

One huge thing I have learned about medications is the times I take them. If you are on something like say Seroquel, and it makes you sleepy. The best time to take it, would be at bedtime. Unless you like being a zombie all day long. Find out how your body reacts and follow through with when the best times are to take your medications. Some bipolar medications make you restless at night, so you definitely do not want to take them at bedtime. Your doctor should want to work with you on this. It is crucial you have a set schedule to take your meds. Otherwise you are a medicated mess. Knowing when to take your meds can be one sure way of battling the side effects.

It is also important you let your doctor know if you think you are taking to much. Your doctor may reduce the dose you are taking. That may take care of some of the side effects you are experiencing. But may also may trigger an episode because you do not have enough medication in your body. So it is something to talk over with your doctor. On some occasions your doctor may prescribe something to counteract the side effects you are having. I personally do not like this route. It just adds one more medication I do not want to take. So I shoot for less or making a change. But you have to do what works best for you.

Many medications have a tendency to give you dry mouth, or make you so thirsty enough to strap a water bottle to your waist. Drugs like Lithium and Depakote are popular for this side effect. Carrying a bottle of water with you at all times will help you with this. I have forgotten my water on occasion and ended up trying to carry on a conversation while my tongue was bone dry and my lips were sticking together. I know others who like chewing gum or sugar-free candy. But I do not like either of those options, but go for what makes you feel better. My dentist recommended a mouthwash specifically targeting dry mouth. That is something you can look for as well.

Always have your doctor's number where you can find it. If for some reason you are experiencing some really bad side effects your first line of defense should be making a call. The doctor or staff will direct you, if it is something serious you should go to the nearest emergency room. Better safe than sorry. I have experienced Lithium toxicity on more than one occasion. And had to go to the emergency room. Any side effect you believe is interfering with your life, is serious. Things like fainting, severe heart palpitations, seizures, suicidal thinking are more serious side effects that should be dealt with immediately

Don't Suffer

There is no reason you should have to suffer through debilitating side effects. Minor ones as I've stated are easier to work through or around and may vanish with time. It is the ones that interfere dramatically that you have to watch out for. If you should decide medication is the right treatment plan for you, remember you can manage your side effects effectively and still maintain your bipolar with dignity.

Not all side effects are manageable. Some can be very serious. These are the ones that should be reported immediately. I am in no way suggesting you should suffer with side effects. I am giving you options that you can live with if you should decide to stick with a bipolar medication that has uncomfortable side effects. Only you can decide if a medication is not right for you. Again if you have serious side effects from any medication it should be reported immediately.

© 2011 Boo McCourt


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    • crazybeanrider profile imageAUTHOR

      Boo McCourt 

      7 years ago from Washington MI

      I agree sometimes a side effect can be tolerated. I don't think you'll find many meds that don't have them in some shape or form. I have found a series of meds that work well on my moods yet one of them has an after effect of sleepiness. It wears off but it is there. I am slowly trying to deal with it because it works well for me. If they are seriously bad it is best to find something that is more tolerable.

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 

      7 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      I really enjoyed your Hub. I believe I've been on every medication there is, and I understand side effects. One thing I've learned is you have to pick your battles. I once complained of a side effect (that I could have lived with) on a drug that was the only one that would work for me of its type. My doctor thought the side effect was severe enough that he took me off it. Eventually, I asked to be put back on it, and I didn't bring up the minor side effect and just tolerated it. I've had to do this with many medications. Also, it seems that my doctor can put me on medications (more) that will take care of nasty side effects. Of course, you want to be on as little medications as possible, but if you can stay on a good drug that works and have to take another mild drug that helps with the side effects, well, then to me, it's worth it. Some side effects are so unpleasant that while they may not bother you, other people notice, like shaking. Good topic choice!

    • crazybeanrider profile imageAUTHOR

      Boo McCourt 

      9 years ago from Washington MI

      The med merry go round is awfully exhausting to say the least...Thank you lamservant...

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 

      9 years ago from United States

      I think the years of juggling and trial and error with meds is the most frustrating thing about bipolar, or any other mental illness that needs meds. This is very good information crazybeanrider. Good job.

    • crazybeanrider profile imageAUTHOR

      Boo McCourt 

      10 years ago from Washington MI

      Hi DzyMsLizzy-Thank you for understanding. It does help if you exercise and eat right, it just generally makes you feel better, so it is hard to go wrong there. I hope the Effexor helps your daughter, many people I know use it successfully.

      Hi lovaza- It is awesome you can deal with your bipolar without meds. I unfortunately cannot. I have tried unsuccessfully many times. I can't tell you how many times I have been in the hospital. I tend to have psychotic features mixed into my mania and depression. I could never quite do it alone. I applaud you :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I tried 13 medications over the years and come to find out that the side effects I experienced worsen my bipolar disorder, either I was too sedated or get panic attacks. It's not easy to find the correct medication for long-term treatment. So now I'm meds free; I exercise, eat right and have an overall attitude that I needed to culitivate to get through the mood swings, come what may, and realize that it's okay to experience the mood swings as long as I recognize the symptoms and knowing how to manage them.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      10 years ago from Oakley, CA

      I imagine this must be a very rough ride on a rougher road for you. Not having been in your shoes, I can sympathize, but not empathize. However, my daughter struggles with some depression, and her doctor has her on Effexir (spelling?).

      She notices that if she forgets her meds for even a day, she feels very out-of-sorts. Exercise helps her, as well, and she tries to hit the gym at least 4 or 5 days out of the week.

      I think it is very courageous and generous of you to share your experiences in this forum. I salute you.

    • crazybeanrider profile imageAUTHOR

      Boo McCourt 

      10 years ago from Washington MI

      cathylynn-I initially gained weight taking Remeron for sleep. Then Seroquel. I just am not successful at getting more than 5 pounds of. I have changed my eating habits in a huge way. I was walking and riding my bike, but winter is here so I have slowed on exercise. I have a trampoline that I hope works well for me. I will check your article out :)

    • cathylynn99 profile image


      10 years ago from northeastern US

      if you're on a newer antipsychotic and not still gaining weight, that's an accomplishment. i'm on an antipsychotic and lost all my excess weight (60#) by counting calories. you do have to measure stuff, because it's too hard to estimate correctly. i have a hub on how to effectively count calories called "sure fire weight loss on the cheap."

      sorry metformin didn't work for you. in most folks it's more effective than lifestyle changes.

    • crazybeanrider profile imageAUTHOR

      Boo McCourt 

      10 years ago from Washington MI

      Minnetonka-As always your comments are greatly appreciated. Your understanding is open and insightful. Thank you.

      cathylynn-I took Metformin for a year with no results. Made dietary, and exercise changes with little success. I could never lose what I gained. A pound here and there. I went through a nutritional/exercise 6 month program diligently and lost only 4-5 pounds of the 20 or so I gained. I need the antipsychotic I take, so I continue to try to lose the weight. Perhaps one day my metabolism will kick in and I will shed what I have gained. Thank you for your input. It is appreciated.

      fucsia-Side effects can be vicious. We either need to adapt to them or continue to find a drug that is less bothersome. Thank you for commenting, I am glad my hub may be useful.

    • fucsia profile image


      10 years ago

      Your Hub is surely useful to who takes your same medications, but is useful to all, to understand that when we take meds, we must always know their side effect, the interactions, the risks, as well as the benefit. Thanks for sharing!

    • cathylynn99 profile image


      10 years ago from northeastern US

      metformin and lifestyle changes have been shown effective for weight gain associated with newer antipsychotics, which promote weight gain by increasing hunger. (study published by JAMA, Jan. 9, 2008)

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      10 years ago from Minnesota

      Thank You for always using your experiences with bi-polar and medications to help others. You are really good and clear at giving out information. You will help so many people that are new at this.


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