What is Treatment-Resistant Bipolar Disorder?

Discussion of treatment-resistant bipolar, remission and relapse of bipolar symptoms, and is it possible to live a life free of bipolar disorder?

Discussion of treatment-resistant bipolar, remission and relapse of bipolar symptoms, and is it possible to live a life free of bipolar disorder?

Gold Standard for Treating Bipolar Disorder (part 23)

The term treatment-resistant bipolar disorder is used when a person with the illness has tried a variety of treatments with little success. This term usually is a result of medication intolerance. The majority of people with bipolar disorder have at least some success with medications and must supplement their treatment with complimentary choices. But those who don't receive relief from medications or those who can't handle the side-effects, often must rely solely on lifestyle and behavior changes as well as alternative treatments in order to find relief.

There is also always the chance that one of the new medications on the market will work better than those previously available. If you have had a tough time with your bipolar disorder treatment up to this time and truly have exhausted all of your options, there is a good chance there are other treatment options that will work for you such as those covered on this website. Considering that it can take years for a person to find the right treatment combination of medications and lifestyle changes, calling someone treatment-resistant is often premature.

How Often Does Bipolar Disorder Go Into Remission?

Remission is defined as no current bipolar disorder symptoms. This usually occurs when an effective combination of medications and complimentary treatments is found.

This usually does not mean that the underlying bipolar disorder is gone; which is why it's essential for a person to continue the treatment that resulted in remission. If you suddenly feel better and then decide that you no longer need medications, this can also be a sign of mania and it must be treated immediately. Though remission is an ideal, the reality is that most people with bipolar disorder still experience some symptoms and must monitor the illness daily.

What is Bipolar Relapse?

Relapse happens when symptoms return after remission and is almost always caused by discontinuation of medications. Relapse can also be associated with new or more severe psychological triggers. The way to avoid relapse of bipolar disorder symptoms is to stick to your treatment plan and make sure you're aware of the very first signs of a mood swing including your behaviors and thoughts so that you can immediately ask for help. Prevention is essential to avoid relapse. Using the ideas in this article can help you prevent relapse and maintain stability. Here are some tips from psychiatry professor, Dr. William Wilson:

  • Figure out a way to take medications consistently
  • Regulate sleep and activity - once again, strive for consistency
  • Monitor symptoms for early signs of relapse
  • Have a safety plan in place for when the signs do start

I Want a Life Free of Bipolar Disorder. Is This Possible?

As with any potentially chronic illness such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis or asthma, daily monitoring can be the norm for many people with bipolar disorder. A lot about maintaining mood stability depends on how well you respond to medications and how many lifestyle changes and behavior changes you're willing and able to make. You can certainly live a life free from constant and out-of-control bipolar disorder mood swings, but even those who respond well to medications still have to be diligent. This is a sneaky illness. Many people can go for years without a major episode and then suddenly experience one for which they are not prepared.

next: What if I'm Too Sick to Help Myself? (part 24)

APA Reference
Fast, J. (2009, February 13). What is Treatment-Resistant Bipolar Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: June 2, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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