Despite wide clinical use of mood-stabilizer combinations for long-term treatment of patients with bipolar disorder, research on risks and benefits of this practice is limited. We found 14 small, usually brief, clinical trials of maintenance treatment with lithium plus carbamazepine. These trials suggest added benefit of combination treatment over use of either agent alone but also indicate the need for further studies.
In a post hoc analysis, we reviewed the course of 46 patients with DSM-IV-diagnosed bipolar I disorder identified as not improving during long-term monotherapy in a mood disorders clinic, comparing days per year hospitalized in 3 consecutive time periods: before prophylactic treatment, during monotherapy with lithium (N = 31) or carbamazepine (N = 15), and during their combined use (N = 46). Secondary outcome measures were rates of hospitalization, time to first recurrence of an affective episode, use of adjunctive treatments, and adverse effects. We compared outcomes with nonparametric bivariate methods and tested predictive factors by multiple regression.
Subjects showed significant reductions in hospitalized days per year during combination therapy, averaging a decrease of 55.9% (p = .004). Among secondary outcomes, hospitalizations per year fell by 36.1%, and median time to recurrence nearly doubled during combination therapy. Rates of adverse effects increased 2.5-fold, compared with monotherapy, and use of adjunctive psychotropic agents increased by 21.9%.
Combining lithium with carbamazepine yielded substantial benefit but more adverse effects.
"A naturalistic study of bipolar I patients followed for 2 years after a mean of 4.5 years after hospitalization found that, those treated with lithium monotherapy had fewer relapses, as well as better adjustment and work performance (Goldberg et al., 1996). Other studies have found that lithium monotherapy has not been successful at improving quality of life for those with bipolar disorder (Tohen et al., 1990; Baethge et al., 2005; Bocchetta et al., 1997). These mixed results may be due to variable definitions of functioning and quality of life assessments. "
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The aims of this study were to evaluate correlates and predictors of life functioning and quality of life in bipolar disorder during a comparative effectiveness trial of moderate doses of lithium.
In the Lithium treatment moderate-dose use study (LiTMUS), 283 symptomatic outpatients with bipolar disorder type I or II were randomized to receive lithium plus “optimal personalized treatment (OPT)”, or OPT alone. Participants were assessed using structured diagnostic interviews, clinician-rated blinded assessments, and questionnaires. We employ linear mixed effects models to test the effect of treatment overall and adjunct lithium specifically on quality of life or functioning. Similar models are used to examine the association of baseline demographics and clinical features with quality of life and life functioning.
Quality of life and impaired functioning at baseline were associated with lower income, higher depressive severity, and more psychiatric comorbid conditions. Over 6 months, patients in both treatment groups improved in quality of life and life functioning (p-Values<0.0001); without a statistically significant difference between the two treatment groups (p-Values>0.05). Within the lithium group, improvement in quality of life and functioning was not associated with concurrent lithium levels at week 12 or week 24 (p-Values>0.05). Lower baseline depressive severity and younger age of onset predicted less improvement in functioning over 6 months.
Optimized care for bipolar disorder improves overall quality of life and life functioning, with no additional benefit from adjunct moderate doses of lithium. Illness burden and psychosocial stressors were associated with worse quality of life and lower functioning in individuals with bipolar disorder.
"Carbamazepine has been reported to be effective in some patients with rapid cycling bipolar disorder (Post et al 1986; Joyce 1988; Tondo et al 2003), especially when used in combination with lithium (Baethge et al 2005). However, this combination caused a rash in the patient presented here and was subsequently discontinued; this is in agreement with studies showing an increase in adverse events with combined carbamazapine/lithium therapy (Baethge et al 2005). A small number of reports have demonstrated effectiveness of lamotrigine in rapid-cycling, especially when combined with valproate (da Rocha et al 2007). "
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Successful treatment of psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, is complicated and is affected by a broad range of factors associated with the diagnosis, choice of treatment and social factors. In these patients, treatment management must focus on accurate and early diagnosis, to ensure that correct treatment is administered as soon as possible. In both disorders, the treatment of the disease in the acute phase must be maintained long term to provide continuous relief and normal function; the treatment choice in the early stages of the disease may impact on long-term outcomes. In schizophrenia, treatment non-compliance is an important issue, with up to 50% of patients discontinuing treatment for reasons as diverse as efficacy failure, social barriers, and more commonly, adverse events. Treatment non-compliance also remains an issue in bipolar disorder, as tolerability of mood stabilizers, especially lithium, is not always good, and combination treatments are frequent. In order to achieve an optimal outcome in which the patient continues with their medication life-long, treatment should be tailored to each individual, taking into account treatment and family history, and balancing efficacy with tolerability to maximize patient benefit and minimize the risk of discontinuation. These case studies illustrate how treatment should be monitored, tailored and often changed over time to meet these needs.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Since the previous publication of Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments (CANMAT) guidelines in 1997, there has been a substantial increase in evidence-based treatment options for bipolar disorder. The present guidelines review the new evidence and use criteria to rate strength of evidence and incorporate effectiveness, safety, and tolerability data to determine global clinical recommendations for treatment of various phases of bipolar disorder. The guidelines suggest that although pharmacotherapy forms the cornerstone of management, utilization of adjunctive psychosocial treatments and incorporation of chronic disease management model involving a healthcare team are required in providing optimal management for patients with bipolar disorder. Lithium, valproate and several atypical antipsychotics are first-line treatments for acute mania. Bipolar depression and mixed states are frequently associated with suicidal acts; therefore assessment for suicide should always be an integral part of managing any bipolar patient. Lithium, lamotrigine or various combinations of antidepressant and mood-stabilizing agents are first-line treatments for bipolar depression. First-line options in the maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder are lithium, lamotrigine, valproate and olanzapine. Historical and symptom profiles help with treatment selection. With the growing recognition of bipolar II disorders, it is anticipated that a larger body of evidence will become available to guide treatment of this common and disabling condition. These guidelines also discuss issues related to bipolar disorder in women and those with comorbidity and include a section on safety and monitoring.
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