Atypical antipsychotics have been used to treat patients with schizophrenia for many years, but now there is increasing evidence of their utility in the treatment of bipolar disorder. In the past few years several atypical agents have received regulatory approval for use in bipolar mania. Through a review of randomized controlled trials for five commonly used atypical drugs, olanzapine, risperidone, quetiapine, ziprasidone and aripiprazole, this article evaluates their efficacy in the acute and maintenance phases of bipolar disorder. The evidence shows that atypical antipsychotics are effective in the treatment of manic symptoms, either alone or in combination with traditional mood stabilizers such as lithium and divalproex. Although emerging data indicate that atypical antipsychotics will be a promising addition to those therapies that are currently available for managing patients during the maintenance phase of bipolar illness, their potential in the long-term management of bipolar disorder remains to be fully explored.
Atypical antipsychotics appear to have broadly similar efficacy against manic symptoms of bipolar disorder, but there are important differences in their tolerability profiles, which are likely to be of particular relevance during long-term treatment. A brief assessment of tolerability issues surrounding the use of atypical agents in bipolar disorder and other aspects of treatment that have impact on the clinical effectiveness of the therapy are considered.