Lithium chloride has long stood as the standard drug treatment for bipolar disorder. Other medications, such as the anticonvulsant valproate, also show promise in quelling the condition's emotional ups and downs, at least in the short run.
A study that recruited bipolar patients from psychiatric clinics in the United States and Canada now offers a rare look at how lithium and valproate stack up against placebos over the long haul. No long-term, placebo-controlled study of any drug for bipolar disorder had been conducted in more than 25 years.
Bipolar patients randomly assigned to 1 year of placebo treatment typically remained free of serious mood symptoms for 7 months of that year, about as long as those who received either lithium or valproate, reports a team led by psychiatrist Charles L. Bowden of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.