Mixed Bipolar Disorder – How to Treat Mixed Mood Episodes

In the final installation of my mixed moods series, I talk about how to treat mixed moods in bipolar disorder. If you need a refresher on mixed moods in bipolar 1 or bipolar 2, see the first three articles in this series:

Treating Mixed Moods in Bipolar 1 – Mixed Mania

We know most about treating mixed moods in bipolar type 1 as that’s what has been classically defined as a mixed mood in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Because mixed moods in bipolar disorder type 1 are considered a type of mania, one could think of treating them in the same way bipolar mania is treated. Typical mania treatments include:

  • Lithium
  • Some anticonvulsants
  • Antipsychotics (normally atypical)
  • Benzodiazepines (for acute anxiety, commonly seen in mania and mixed moods)

Often a combination of an anticonvulsant and an antipsychotic is used.

FDA-Approved Drugs for Treating Mixed Moods in Bipolar 1

Since mixed moods are defined in the DSM, there are specific medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat mixed mania. FDA-approved drugs for treating mixed moods in bipolar disorder type 1:

  • Carbamazepine extended release (Equetro)
  • Aripiprazole (Abilify)
  • Ziprasidone (Geodon)
  • Risperidone (Risperdal)
  • Asenapine (Saphris)
  • Olanzapine (Zyprexa)

Bipolar Type 1 and Mixed Mood TreatmentWhy lithium didn’t make the list I’m not entirely sure;* because, as I’ve mentioned, mixed moods and acute anxiety carry a significant risk of suicide and lithium seems to have a particularly strong anti-suicide effect.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is also indicated for the treatment of bipolar disorder mixed moods.

Treating Mixed Moods in Bipolar 2

As I mentioned in the article on mixed moods in bipolar disorder type 2, mixed moods can either have hypomania or depression as the primary mood. This primary mood then, dictates the type of treatment chosen.

Treating Mixed Hypomania

According to this two-part Psychiatric Times article by Steven C. Dilsaver, MD, mixed hypomania in bipolar type 2 can be treated similarly to treating a mixed mood in bipolar type 1.

Specifically noted is the concern of acute anxiety during mixed hypomania and the fact not all patients readily admit to psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety. However, this is critical information to your doctor and should always be offered, even if not specifically asked.

Other mixed hypomania treatment tips include:

  • Comorbid (co-occurring) anxiety may decrease the effectiveness of mood-stabilizing agents, so benzodiazepines may be a better choice.
  • Not treating anxiety aggressively can reduce overall long-term treatment outcomes.

Treating Mixed Depression

Mixed depression is particularly hard to treat as mixed moods often predict a lack of response to antidepressants, not to mention the fact that antidepressants can make hypomanic or manic symptoms worse.

A suggested treatment strategy for mixed moods in bipolar 2 with the primary mood of depression is the following:

  • Begin by suppressing hypomanic symptoms by using an mood stabilizer or antipsychotic (antipsychotics may work in 1-2 weeks)
  • Start medication at low doses and titrate (raise the dose) quickly – this is generally necessary due to the severity of mood symptoms
  • If depressive symptoms persist after response to the above medication, add a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant very slowly while watching for signs of hypomania – this requires very close monitoring and likely weekly doctor visits (impossible for some, obviously)

This is very similar to what many doctors are now recommending for bipolar disorder type 2 in general. First, stop the cycling (or hypomania) and see if that also corrects the depression. Avoid the use of antidepressants whenever possible.

Preventing Mixed Depression in Bipolar Type 2

How To Prevent Bipolar Disorder Mixed Moods

Obviously, no one can guarantee prevention of any mood, but there are some recommendations given in the article, as people with mixed depression are known to be at high risk for reoccurrence.

Tips on preventing mixed depression in bipolar 2 include:

  • Lamotrigine is the favorite prophylactic medication as it seems to prevent depression without being an antidepressant
  • Ongoing scheduled benzodiazepine doses can help prevent panic attacks^
  • A combination of an antipsychotic, plus lamotrigine, plus a benzodiazepine is often “highly effective” (words Dr. Dilsaver’s)
  • Lithium is known to be a highly preventative agent; however, in many cases divalproex (Depakote) is superior and has fewer side effects

Series on Mixed Moods in Bipolar Disorder

Whew. OK, there turned out to be a lot to know about mixed moods in bipolar disorder. I hope you learned something reading it as I certainly did writing it.

For your convenience, here are the links to the other three parts in the series:

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Notes

* I suspect there wasn’t enough money to be made on a generic drug to fund the studies, especially when doctors are going to use it anyways.
^ Yes, I know, long-term (sometimes any term) benzodiazepine use is controversial. Personally, I’m not against them and neither are many doctors – when used responsibly.

Reference

Psychiatric Times, Mixed States in Their Manifold Forms. Part one and part two.

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