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Antipsychotic Medications - Overview

Bipolar Disorder Medications Library

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Updated June 08, 2012

Antipsychotic medications are often prescribed for the treatment of bipolar disorder. Psychotic symptoms are common in bipolar I disorder, and antipsychotic medications are the standard treatment for these symptoms. There are also some antipsychotics that have direct effects on mania and/or depression and are therefore used as mood stabilizers.

There are two classes of antipsychotic medications, typical and atypical. These names aren't very useful -- basically, typical antipsychotics are the older ones and atypicals the newer ones. One atypical, Clozaril (clozapine) has actually been around since 1959, but it was first used in the 1970s; then it was withdrawn and has only been FDA approved since 1989. Another distinction between the typicals and atypicals is that the typicals - also called neuroleptics - are more likely to cause extrapyramidal side effects at regular doses.

When Are Antipsychotic Medications Prescribed?

Antipsychotic medications are an appropriate treatment when a patient is suffering from one or more symptoms of psychosis such as hallucinations or delusions. The presence of psychotic symptoms in a person with bipolar disorder automatically requires a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder. Other disorders that can have psychotic symptoms include schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and postpartum psychosis. Medical conditions may also cause psychotic symptoms (see Psychosis, above).

Since some antipsychotic medications also can be used as mood stabilizers, they may be prescribed for patients with bipolar II disorder or other forms of bipolar disorder as well.

Which Antipsychotics Are Typicals and Which Are Atypicals?

For lists of typical and atypical antipsychotic medications, and links to in-depth content, see:

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