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Strategies for Monitoring Outcomes in Patients With Bipolar Disorder

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2010;12[suppl 1]:10–16
10.4088/PCC.9064su1c.02

Practical strategies are available for primary care physicians to monitor psychiatric and medical outcomes as well as treatment adherence in patients with bipolar disorder. Current depressive symptoms can be assessed with tools like the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire or Beck Depression Inventory. Lifetime presence or absence of manic or hypomanic symptoms can be assessed using the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ). These measures can be completed quickly by patients prior to appointments. Sensitivity of such ratings, particularly the MDQ, can be increased by having a significant other also rate the patient. Clinicians should also screen mood disorder patients for psychiatric comorbidities that are common in this population such as anxiety and substance use disorders. While patients with bipolar disorder may commonly be nonadherent with prescribed medication regimens, strategies that can help include having frank discussions with the patient, selecting medication collaboratively, adding psychotherapy with a psychoeducation element, monitoring appointment-keeping, using patient self-reports of medication-taking, enlisting the aid of significant others, and measuring plasma drug levels. Medical monitoring is needed to assess the safety and tolerability of psychotropic medications. All of the approved medications for bipolar disorder have at least 1 boxed warning for serious side effects, but are also associated with other common management-limiting side effects such as sedation, tremor, unsteadiness, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, weight gain, and metabolic problems. Routine monitoring is particularly needed for obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disorders, which lead to high rates of medical morbidity and mortality in patients with bipolar disorder. Monitoring protocols such as the one recommended by the American Diabetes Association for patients taking second-generation antipsychotics can be used for regular assessment.