Mood Stabilizers

Mood stabilizers are a group of medications used to reduce or relieve symptoms of mood swings in bipolar disorder and other mental disorders.

What are mood stabilizers commonly prescribed for?

Mood stabilizers are used mainly to treat bipolar disorder, mood swings associated with other mental disorders, and in some cases, to enhance the effect of other medications used to treat depression.

How do mood stabilizers work?

Mood stabilizers work by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain. These medications can help reduce mood swings and prevent manic and depressive episodes.

What mood stabilizers are currently available?

Commonly prescribed mood stabilizers include:

  • Lithium
  • Carbamazepine
  • Lamotrigine
  • Oxcarbazepine
  • Valproic acid
  • Divalproex sodium

What can I expect from mood stabilizers?

Signs that the medication may be helping can include:

  • Reduced mood swings
  • Relief of symptoms

How long do mood stabilizers take to work?

There can be signs of improvement early on in treatment but it may take up to several months to experience the full effect of the medication and determine whether it is working.

Everybody is different including the way each person’s brain is wired, therefore medications may work differently in each person. 

Finding the right mood stabilizer is a process of trial and error. Some people may have to try several different medications before they find one that works.

What are the common side effects of mood stabilizers?

Not everyone will experience side effects. People who experience some side effects may find that many of these side effects go away with time as their body gets used to the medication.

Some common side effects may include:

  • Itchy skin, rashes
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination (peeing too often)
  • Nausea and vomiting (stomach upset)
  • Slurred speech (difficulty saying words clearly)
  • Blackouts (not knowing where you are for brief moments)
  • Changes in vision (unable to see things clearly or the way you normally would)
  • Seizures (periods of body spasms or jerking movements that cannot be controlled)
  • Loss of coordination (for example, some difficulty placing fork to mouth when eating)

If at any time you develop a sudden rash, have any trouble with breathing, sudden pain in any part of the body (e.g. chest, muscles), sudden muscle stiffness, any involuntary movements, trouble staying awake during the day, confusion or difficulty peeing or peeing too much please contact your doctor immediately.

Some side effects may go away over time but you should always report to your doctor any symptoms that you feel are bothersome and/or have become worse.

Some suggestions to help reduce risk and/or severity of side effects can include:

  • Balanced diet, adequate fluids, daily activity or exercise
  • Report any weight gain greater or equal to five per cent (approximately two to 25 lbs)
  • Limit excess intake of caffeinated products and sodium
  • Decrease smoking

Sometimes a change in the dose and schedule may help manage some side effects. You should follow up with your doctor as there may be other treatments that could help.

Your doctor may also ask you to go for lab work or other tests to make sure you are tolerating the medication and watch for any concern of side effects.

How can I safely use my mood stabilizer?

  • Do not take any other medication that is not prescribed by your doctor (e.g. over the counter products, vitamins, herbal supplements) without checking if it is safe to combine with your mood stabilizer. Check with your pharmacist before deciding to take anything new.
  • All mood stabilizers should be taken regularly, preferably at around the same time every day. If you miss a dose do not double up, take your next dose at the regularly scheduled time. If you miss more than one dose please contact your doctor to discuss.
  • Do not stop taking your mood stabilizers until you have spoken with your doctor to avoid any severe withdrawal effects. If there is a need to stop taking the medication the dose should be gradually reduced.

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