What Are the Long-Term Effects of Bipolar Disorder on the Body?

Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP on August 15, 2017Written by Natalie Silver

Overview

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes episodes of mania and depression. These severe mood swings can result in serious consequences. They may even require psychiatric hospitalization.

Living with bipolar disorder requires lifelong maintenance and professional treatment. Sometimes bipolar disorder or the treatments used for the condition may cause long-term effects on the body.

Effects of bipolar medications

Bipolar disorder medications can have different effects. Like with most medications, bipolar disorder medications come with typical side effects. However, they can also have effects that come from long-term use.

Side effects

The types of medication used to treat bipolar disorder include:

  • mood stabilizers
  • antipsychotics
  • antidepressants
  • combination antidepressant-antipsychotics
  • antianxiety medications

All of these medications can have an impact on the body. For example, side effects of antipsychotics can include:

  • tremors
  • muscle spasms
  • involuntary movements
  • dry mouth
  • sore throat
  • weight gain
  • increased glucose and lipid levels in the blood
  • sedation

Lithium is one of the most frequently prescribed medications for bipolar disorder. That is because it works on your brain as a mood stabilizer. It can help control both mania and depression. It can reduce symptoms of mania within two weeks of starting it. However, it comes with several side effects. These may include:

  • sedation or confusion
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • eye pain or vision changes
  • fine hand tremors
  • a frequent need to urinate
  • excessive thirst

Long-term effects

In the long term, lithium may also cause kidney problems. Taking lithium alone is considered a monotherapy. Researchers in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry suggest that alternatives to lithium are needed because of its frequent side effects and use as a monotherapy. The authors offer the opinion that lithium on its own is not a good long-term treatment for bipolar disorder.

Effects of the condition of bipolar disorder

Although bipolar medications may have effects on your body, bipolar disorder that isn’t controlled with medication can have effects on your body as well, which can often be more severe. Manic or depressive episodes can cause many changes to the body and psyche. These include:

  • long periods of feeling hopeless or helpless, or having low self-esteem
  • a decreased amount of energy
  • an inability to concentrate or to make simple decisions
  • changes in daily habits, such as eating and sleeping patterns
  • agitation or feeling slowed down
  • suicidal thoughts or attempts

Additionally, people with bipolar disorder are at higher risk for other physical ailments, including:

People with bipolar disorder are also more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders or abuse alcohol or other drugs.

Talk to a doctor

If you have bipolar disorder, being vigilant about your mental health status and treatment plan is important. Check in with your doctor frequently, including for counseling therapy and medication assessment. Family, friends, and doctors can often recognize if a person is entering a bipolar episode and encourage medical help.

It’s common for people with bipolar disorder to want to stop taking their medications because of these side effects. However, your progress in successfully living with bipolar disorder is often reliant on taking your medications consistently.

If you have bipolar disorder and are concerned that your medication is causing adverse side effects, you should speak with your doctor about your treatment plan. You should also call your doctor if you feel you may be experiencing a manic or depressive episode. Sometimes adjustments will need to be made to your treatment plan.

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