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Bipolar Rapid Cycling: Focus on Depression as Its Hallmark

Joseph R. Calabrese, MD; Melvin D. Shelton, PhD, MD; Charles L. Bowden, MD; Daniel J. Rapport, MD; Trisha Suppes, MD, PhD; Edwin R. Shirley, PhD; Susan E. Kimmel, MD; and Susan J. Caban, BS

Published: June 30, 2001

Article Abstract

The phenomenon of frequent cycling in bipolar disorder was first recognized by Emil Kraepelin in 1913. More recently, rapid cycling has been reported to be a predictor of nonresponse to treatment. At the time of presentation, most patients with DSM-IV-defined rapid cycling appear to be in the depressed phase of their illness. Frequent and more severe episodes of depression appear to be the hallmark of rapid cycling. Reported in this article are recent preliminary data suggesting that the combination of lithium and divalproex sodium administered continuously over 6 months appears to result in marked acute and continuation antimanic efficacy in 85% of patients and marked antidepressant efficacy in 60%. However, only one half of patients experienced bimodal stabilization. Comorbid alcohol, cannabis, and/or cocaine abuse and/or dependence did not appear to directly affect the spectrum of efficacy of lithium and divalproex or response rates in compliant patients. Comorbidity appeared to alter prognosis by increasing the prevalence of poor compliance. The majority of patients receiving lithium and divalproex who required additional treatment were depressed, suggesting that the frequent recurrence of depression is the primary unmet need in patients with rapid cycling. The use of antidepressants in this population has been discouraged because of concerns about the possibility of cycle acceleration. There exists a need for a pharmacotherapy that not only possesses marked acute antidepressant properties, but that does so without inducing switching or cycle acceleration. A doubleblind, placebo-controlled trial of lamotrigine monotherapy in bipolar I depression has demonstrated efficacy without causing switching at a rate exceeding placebo; however, this initial study excluded patients with rapid cycling. To explore the efficacy of lamotrigine in rapid cycling, a recent multicenter study has examined lamotrigine as a maintenance therapy for this population. The results indicate that lamotrigine may be a useful treatment for patients with rapid-cycling bipolar II disorder and that this drug has begun to address this unmet need.

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