Anticonvulsants are a diverse group of pharmacological agents used in the treatment of epileptic seizures. Anticonvulsants are also increasingly being used in the treatment of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, since many seem to act as mood stabilizers, and for the treatment of neuropathic pain.
Anticonvulsant Medications for Bipolar Disorder
Several anticonvulsant medications are recognized as mood stabilizers to treat or prevent mood episodes in bipolar disorder. At first, anticonvulsants were prescribed only for people who did not respond to lithium. Today, they are often prescribed alone, with lithium, or with an antipsychotic drug to control mania.
Anticonvulsants work by calming hyperactivity in the brain in various ways. For this reason, some of these drugs are used to treat epilepsy, prevent migraines, and treat other brain disorders. They are often prescribed for people who have rapid cycling — four or more episodes of mania and depression in a year.
Anticonvulsants used to treat bipolar disorder include:
These medicines differ in the types of bipolar symptoms they treat. Depakote and Tegretol, for example, tend to be more effective in treating mania than depressive symptoms while Lamictal appears to have stronger antidepressant than antimanic effects. Lamictal also is used more often to prevent future episodes (rather than treat current episodes). Depakote and Tegretol are used to treat acute episodes more than as preventative treatments. Other anticonvulsants are less well-established for treating mood symptoms in bipolar disorder, and some — such as Neurontin, Lyrica, or Topamax — are also used “off label” for other types of problems such as sleep, pain management, anxiety or weight loss.
Each anticonvulsant acts on the brain in slightly different ways, so your experience may differ depending on the drug you take. In general, however, these drugs are at maximal effectiveness after taking them for several weeks.