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The Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder: Decision-Making in Primary Care

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2014;16(3):doi:10.4088/PCC.13r01609
10.4088/PCC.13r01609

Bipolar disorder is a chronic episodic illness, characterized by recurrent episodes of manic or depressive symptoms. Patients with bipolar disorder frequently present first to primary care, but the diversity of the potential symptoms and a low index of suspicion among physicians can lead to misdiagnosis in many patients. Frequently, co-occurring psychiatric and medical conditions further complicate the differential diagnosis. A thorough diagnostic evaluation at clinical interview, combined with supportive case-finding tools, is essential to reach an accurate diagnosis. When treating bipolar patients, the primary care physician has an integral role in coordinating the multidisciplinary network. Pharmacologic treatment underpins both short- and long-term management of bipolar disorder. Maintenance treatment to prevent relapse is frequently founded on the same pharmacologic approaches that were effective in treating the acute symptoms. Regardless of the treatment approach that is selected, monitoring over the long term is essential to ensure continued symptom relief, functioning, safety, adherence, and general medical health. This article describes key decision-making steps in the management of bipolar disorder from the primary care perspective: from initial clinical suspicion to confirmation of the diagnosis to decision-making in acute and longer-term management and the importance of patient monitoring.