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J Affect Disord. 2001 Dec;67(1-3):241-55.

Current research on rapid cycling bipolar disorder and its treatment.

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  • 1Mood Disorders Program, Department of Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.


Rapid cycling is a pattern of presentation of bipolar disorder that specifies the course of the illness and is associated with a greater morbidity. The validity of rapid cycling as a distinct course modifier for bipolar disorder has been demonstrated and the term has been incorporated into the DSM-IV. The phenomenon of rapid cycling tends to appear late in the course of the disorder, occurs more frequently among females, and is more frequently seen in patients with bipolar type II disorder. Stimulants such as cocaine may also play some role in rapid-cycling. It is generally accepted that a recent history of rapid cycling predicts non-response to monotherapy with lithium and probably carbamazepine as well; however it is also possible that concurrent use of antidepressants may play a role in destabilizing the illness course under these agents. Thus, clinical considerations suggest that discontinuing antidepressants may facilitate the recovery process. Among clinically available monotherapies, valproate and lamotrigine appear to be the most useful clinically. However, other treatments such as lithium, carbamazepine, the atypical antipsychotic agents, thyroid hormone, and bupropion are frequently needed augmentation strategies. Electroconvulsive therapy may also prove efficacious in selected cases. The present paper provides a critical review of the evidence for the foregoing clinical issues in rapid cycling.

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