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Lamictal for Bipolar: Important Facts You Should Know about this Mood-Stabilizing Drug

Updated on September 18, 2022
Lamictal tablets, pictured here, are useful for controlling seizures, as well as helping to reduce the number of mood episodes in those suffering from bipolar disorder.
Lamictal tablets, pictured here, are useful for controlling seizures, as well as helping to reduce the number of mood episodes in those suffering from bipolar disorder.

Out with the Old, In With the New

For years, lithium was one of the only drugs prescribed to those patients with bipolar disorder. This drug proved immensely helpful at reducing the manic symptoms of this mental illness, but it didn't do so great at controlling the depression side of things. Lithium also has a number of serious side effects for some people, including dehydration, severe dizziness, vomiting, etc. It is true that lithium has to be administered at near toxic doses in order to be effective.

Recently, within the past decade, mental health practitioners have found that another drug works just as well as lithium, without all of the side effects. The drug is called Lamictal (the generic name is lamotrigine) and it is an anti-seizure medication that has been widely prescribed since the early 90s. In early studies, this drug showed promise at treating both the manic and depressive phases of bipolar disorder, and soon Lamictal became FDA approved for the maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder.

Doctors prefer lamictal to lithium for many reasons, including the relatively benign side-effect profile of Lamictal and the lack of a need for blood monitoring, unlike when people are taking lithium. Patients often find that a regimen of Lamictal is easier to adhere to than Lithium, so they often prefer this drug as well.

Be Sure to Take Your Lamictal Exactly as Prescribed Every Day

In order for Lamictal to be most effective as a mood stabilizer, it must be taken on a regular schedule This helps to avoid the "ups" and "downs" commonly associated with bipolar disorder.

To help you remember to take the medicine at the same time every day, it can be helpful to work it into one of your daily routines. For example, you could take it with breakfast each day, or right before you go to bed. It does not matter when you take Lamictal each day, and the medicine may be taken with or without food.

Watch Out for a Skin Rash When Using Lamictal

One of the main things to be careful about when you use Lamictal is the appearance of any sort of skin rash. A skin rash when taking Lamictal can be the sign of a very rare but serious side effect that requires immediate medical attention. Skin rashes are more likely to occur during the first 6 weeks of treatment with lamotrigine as opposed to lated on in treatment. If you are taking Lamictal and experience a skin rash, you should seek immediate medical attention.

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Watch Out for Side Effects

Common side effects of Lamictal include dry mouth, headache, and drowsiness. This is not a comprehensive list--you'll want to read the prescribing info that comes with your monthly prescription for the complete run-down. It is important to discuss any side effects that happen with your doctor, as your medicine may need to be adjusted or switched. Sometimes, the benefits of the medicine will outweigh side effects--only you and your doctor can decide this. It is good to note, though, that side effects often subside over time as your body adjusts to the new medications.

Give Lamictal Adequate Time to Start Working

As with many other psychiatric medications, Lamictal can take some time to start working. You may experience an improvement in your mood in as few as one to two weeks, but for other people it may take longer. In fact, it may take some people up to two months to experience the full benefit of Lamictal in the treatment of their bipolar disorder. It is important to stick with your medication regimen, even if you feel like you are not improving. If, after several months of taking Lamictal, your mood still hasn't improved, talk to your doctor about whether or not another bipolar medication may be a better decision for you.


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