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Treatment guidelines for bipolar disorder: a critical review


The development of treatment guidelines emerged as an important element so as to standardize treatment and to provide clinicians with algorithms, which would be able to carry research findings to the everyday clinical practice.

Materials and Methods

The MEDLINE was searched with the combination of each one of the key words 'mania', 'manic', 'bipolar', 'manic-depression', 'manic-depressive' with 'treatment guidelines'.


The search was updated until March 1st, 2004 and returned 224 articles. Twenty seven papers concerning the publication of treatment algorithms were traced.


Despite supposedly being evidence-based, guidelines for the treatment of bipolar disorder vary significantly across committees or working groups. Overall, however, at the first stage of the mania/hypomania algorithm, monotherapy with lithium, divalproex sodium or olanzapine is generally recommended. At latter stages combination therapy is strongly recommended. It is clearly stated that in bipolar depression antidepressants should be used only in combination with antimanic agents in order to avoid switching of phases. During the maintenance phase all patients should receive antimanic agents, while some may need the addition of antidepressants. The most recent guidelines emphasize the use of atypical antipsychotics for mania and lamotrigine for depression. The main problem with guidelines is that they are rapidly outdated and that the evidence base relies mainly on registration monotherapy trials that hardly reflect treatment in routine clinical conditions.


Treatment guidelines may be useful to avoid non-evidence-based treatment decisions, but they are quickly out-of-date and may not fully apply to the clinical setting. The more recent guidelines point the value of atypical antipsychotics, lithium, and valproate in the treatment of mania; the role of lithium, lamotigine and olanzapine as options for maintenance therapy; and the scarcity of options for the treatment of bipolar depression. Psychoeducation is also supported by most guidelines as an adjunctive treatment.

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Open Access This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Fountoulakis, K., Vieta, E., Sαnchez-Moreno, J. et al. Treatment guidelines for bipolar disorder: a critical review. Ann Gen Psychiatry 5 (Suppl 1), S327 (2006).

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