Frequently Asked Questions

Are lithium or valproate experimental medications?

Neither lithium nor valproate are experimental. Both lithium and valproate are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or corresponding agencies in other countries. Millions of patients have been successfully treated with these medications. They are considered standard of care for bipolar disorder and are the two most effective and widely used medications.

Is lithium safe?

Lithium is the best known mood stabilizing medication for bipolar disorder and has been used by millions of patients. When used properly under a doctor’s supervision with appropriate monitoring, it is very safe. If someone’s dose is too high, they may become clumsy, confused or sick. For this reason, it is important to have blood levels checked regularly. Over many years, some people also may develop kidney problems due to lithium. For this reason, doctors carefully monitor blood tests of kidney function, so lithium can be changed to another medication if necessary before any kidney damage occurs.

What are the side effects of lithium?

Most people tolerate lithium very well with few side effects. Possible side effects may include: tremor, drowsiness, nausea, diarrhea, increased thirst, increased urination, acne, and weight gain. Lithium may also affect your thyroid or kidneys. Blood tests can be used to detect early changes in these organs.

Will I be treated with a placebo or sugar pill?

No placebo or sugar pills are used in the PGBD study. All participants are treated with active medications that are standards of clinical care.

How do doctors select medications for bipolar disorder now?

People with bipolar disorder vary widely in their response to different medications. Some features of illness are associated with response. For example, people with elated mania or strong family histories tend to do better on lithium. However, these factors are at best trends and poor predictors. So doctors now have to use a trial and error method to find a medication that works.

How would a genetic test help doctors select medications?

It is very likely that genetic differences between people determine who responds to each medication. The discovery of these genetic differences by studies like PGBD, will enable scientists to develop a panel of genetic tests that will predict medication response. With such a test, doctors will be able to choose the best medication at the beginning of treatment, and the lengthy trial and error process will be avoided.

Can I participate in another study at the same time?

Participation in other research studies is possible but depends on the nature of the other study. Studies using other psychiatric medications are generally not allowed. Studies that do not involve treatment of your bipolar disorder may possible. Studies of other disorders may also be possible.