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Keywords:

  • bipolar disorder;
  • depression;
  • mania;
  • polytherapy;
  • treatment resistance

Poon SH, Sim K, Sum MY, Kuswanto CN, Baldessarini RJ. Evidence-based options for treatment-resistant adult bipolar disorder patients. Bipolar Disord 2012: 14: 573–584. © 2012 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S.

Objectives:  Many patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder (BD) respond incompletely or unsatisfactorily to available treatments. Given the potentially devastating nature of this prevalent disorder, there is a pressing need to improve clinical care of such patients.

Methods:  We performed a literature review of the research findings related to treatment-resistant BD reported through February 2012.

Results:  Therapeutic trials for treatment-resistant bipolar mania are uncommon, and provide few promising leads other than the use of clozapine. Far more pressing challenges are the depressive-dysthymic-dysphoric-mixed phases of BD and long-term prophylaxis. Therapeutic trials for treatment-resistant bipolar depression have assessed anticonvulsants, modern antipsychotics, glutamate [N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)] antagonists, dopamine agonists, calcium-channel blockers, and thyroid hormones, as well as behavioral therapy, sleep deprivation, light therapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial magnetic stimulation, and deep brain stimulation—all of which are promising but limited in effectiveness. Several innovative pharmacological treatments (an anticholinesterase, a glutamine antagonist, a calcium-channel blocker, triiodothyronine, olanzapine and topiramate), ECT, and cognitive-behavior therapy have some support for long-term treatment of resistant BD patients, but most of trials of these treatments have been methodologically limited.

Conclusions:  Most studies identified were small, involved supplementation of typically complex ongoing treatments, varied in controls, randomization, and blinding, usually involved brief follow-up, and lacked replication. Clearer criteria for defining and predicting treatment resistance in BD are needed, as well as improved trial design with better controls, assessment of specific clinical subgroups, and longer follow-up.