Contributed by: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, writer for Eating Disorder Hope
Suffering with bipolar disorder along with an eating disorder can feel like a never-ending battle. The complexity of the combination of these disorders can make everyday life seem complicated.
Thankfully, as awareness, research, and treatment about co-occurring disorders has progressed, there are many ways in which bipolar disorder can be managed with an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder.
Understanding Where You Are To Begin Treatment
If you or a loved one has been suffering with an eating disorder along with bipolar disorder, the first place to start is by completing an assessment with a specialized professional and/or treatment team. Understanding where you are and knowing what you need is the first step towards recovering.
Because there are varying levels of treatment, it is important for a health professional to assess your current needs in order to determine what type of treatment is most appropriate for you. Treatment can take place in acute settings, like a hospital or residential care, or in intensive outpatient/outpatient programs.
The types of symptoms that you have may determine what type of care you may need. Bipolar disorder can present with many symptoms, some behaviors that are more severe than others. If you are struggling with suicidal ideations, manic episodes, major mood changes, severe depression, or psychosis, acute care is likely needed to help stabilize. Maintenance care for bipolar disorder can typically be achieved at lower levels of care.
The Role of Medication in Treating Bipolar Disorder
Treatment for bipolar disorder will involve both psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, or medication management. This approach is usually integrated across the levels of treatment for bipolar disorder.
Medications can be a helpful part of managing symptoms of bipolar disorder, which can also allow for more concentrated effort for eating disorder recovery. A psychiatrist will oversee and manage medications for bipolar disorder and can make adjustments to the type of medications, prescription, and dosage based on individual needs.
Medications typically prescribed for the management of bipolar disorder may include the following:
- Antidepressants: A doctor may prescribe an antidepressant medication if severe depressive episodes are present or occurring regularly. These may also be effective or helpful for managing symptoms of bulimia nervosa.
- Mood Stabilizers: Bipolar disorder often involves a drastic fluctuation of emotions, ranging from manic to hypomanic episodes. Mood-stabilizing medication can be a helpful part of controlling extreme changes. Some examples of mood-stabilizing medications include carbamazepine (Tegretol, Equerto), lithium (Lithobid), and lamotrigine (Lamictal).
- Antipsychotic medications: Individuals who suffer with bipolar disorder may experience manic episodes or psychosis. An antipsychotic medication can help manage these symptoms and may be combined with a mood stabilizer. Examples of antipsychotic medications include risperidone (Risperdal), aripiprazole (Abilify), olanzapine (Zyprexa), and quetiapine (Seroquel).
- Other medications that may be prescribed include anti-anxiety medications to relieve severe anxiety or sleep medications, which may help alleviate insomnia or sleep disorders related to the bipolar disorder.
Remaining Open with Your Treatment Team
As with all medications, it is important to discuss any and all medications with your doctor and treatment team. Because of the many side effects that can result from medication use, it is necessary to work under the guidance of your physician to determine what medication is suitable for you.
Your doctor can also determine the best medication protocol to fit in with any other medications you might be currently taking. If at any point while taking your prescribed medications, you feel uncomfortable or uneasy, be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor.
Take Your Medications as Directed
Never start and stop a medication at your own discretion, as you can suffer withdrawal symptoms. With these types of medications, a trial and error phase may occur in order for your doctor to determine what dosage works best for you. This can be a difficult aspect of medication management, but try to focus on the end result.
Medications can be a helpful and important aspect of treatment of bipolar disorder. When the symptoms of bipolar disorder are effectively managed, it can become possible to focus on the treatment of an eating disorder that may also be present. Be sure to have the guidance of a professional treatment team during this complex process.
Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!
Have you dealt with bipolar disorder and an eating disorder? How did medication help you manage your symptoms?
Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 28th, 2016
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com