Researchers looked at 230 patients with bipolar disorder who were admitted to a Rhode Island psychiatric hospital in 2010. They found that more than half of patients were taking three or more psychiatric medications and 36% were taking four or more. About 20% weren't taking any psychiatric medications.
Women were more likely than men to be taking four or more psychiatric drugs, a situation called "complex polypharmacy". Women accounted for 58% of the patients in the study but for 68% of those with complex polypharmacy.
In addition, women were more likely to be taking antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and stimulants, all of which are controversial treatments for bipolar disorder, said study lead author Lauren Weinstock, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behaviour at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
Including prescriptions for other health problems, the patients were taking an average of six different drugs, according to the study published online in the journal Psychiatry Research.
Having so many medications can lead to unknown interactions, make it difficult for patients to take them as prescribed, and lead to high costs for patients and the health care system, the researchers noted.
"The high rate of complex polypharmacy reflects the enormous challenge of symptom management that we currently face for bipolar disorder," Weinstock said in a university news release.
"Without many treatment alternatives, this is where we are as a field. It is important for us to advance science and treatment of bipolar disorder so that this medication burden can be minimized for our patients," she said.
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