Valproate Can Cause Increases in Blood Ammonia

February 6, 2012 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

red blood cellsResearcher C. Lewis reported in two posters presented at the Ninth International Conference on Bipolar Disorder (ICBD) in 2011 that in a study of patients treated with valproate, some increases in ammonia levels occurred. This condition, hyperamonaemia, was identified in 31 patients among those treated between 2005 and 2009 at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. High levels of ammonia are associated with a flapping tremor and, in some cases, encephalopathy with confusion, psychiatric symptoms, and motor incoordination.

The recommended management for hyperamonaemia is discontinuation of valproate and use of lactulose, a synthetic sugar that can lower ammonia levels. These approaches were not always used. Another option for patients who require valproate treatment is to supplement the drug with carnitine, which is available as a nutritional supplement. Lewis reported success in three such cases.

Editor’s Note: Patients on valproate presenting with a gross flapping tremor of the hands, confusion, or motor imbalance should be tested for hyperamonaemia and treated accordingly.

 

Lithium More Effective than Valproate for Bipolar Disorder

January 16, 2012 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

lithiumAccording to two studies in 2011, lithium is more effective in treating episodes of bipolar disorder than valproate, while the drugs may be equally effective in reducing suicidality among bipolar patients.

The first study, of more than 4000 Danish patients with bipolar disorder, found that patients taking lithium had fewer hospital visits and were less likely to need new medications than those taking valproate.  Patients taking lithium had fewer admissions to a hospital for any type of episode.  In addition, patients taking valproate had a higher rate of switching to or adding on treatment with antidepressants, antipsychotics, or anticonvulsants than those taking lithium.  The study included up to 12 years of follow-up with the patients and is the largest study with the longest period of follow-up of patients taking valproate or lithium to date.  Results were published by Lars Kessing et al. in the British Journal of Psychiatry in July 2011.

In the other study, a randomized controlled trial of 100 patients with bipolar disorder who had attempted suicide at least once in the past, Maria Oquendo of Columbia University found that there were no significant differences in number of suicide attempts, hospitalizations for suicide attempts, or time to a new attempt between patients taking lithium and those taking valproate over a follow-up period of 2.5 years.

Forty-five suicide events, which included attempts, hospitalizations, and changes to medication in response to suicide plans, were experienced by 35 patients (16 who were taking lithium and 19 who were taking valproate). Eighteen suicide attempts were made by 6 patients taking lithium and 8 taking valproate.  There were no suicide completions during this study, which was published in Volume 168 of the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2011.

Editor’s Note: Suicide attempts are much more common than completed suicides. It appears that the second study was not large enough or long enough to detect differences in the rate of completed suicides. Older naturalistic studies suggest that treatment results in low suicide rates and that in patients who stop treatment with lithium, the rate of suicide attempts and completion increases dramatically. This is another reason for good responders to treatment regimens that include lithium to continue taking their medications.

Long-Term Treatment with Lithium, Valproate, or Carbamazepine: Lithium Best for Most Patients

September 21, 2011 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

LithiumShannon Stepan, Eric Peselow and Nunzio Pomara from Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, have analyzed naturalistic observations of long-term maintenance treatment of bipolar disorder with valproic acid, lithium, and carbamazepine and found that patients on lithium went much longer before experiencing an episode of mania or depression than patients taking carbamazepine or valproate.

The team followed 225 outpatients for up to 124 months, or until they had a manic or depressive episode or dropped out of the study during a well phase. Ninety-eight patients took lithium, 78 took valproate, and 50 took carbamazepine. Fifty-two percent of the participants dropped out of the study during a well phase.

One hundred three patients (45.8%) had either a manic or depressive episode during the study. This included 36.7% of the patients taking lithium, 55% of patients taking valproate, and 50% of patients taking carbamazepine. Median time until a first episode was 45 months for the entire sample, 36 months for those patients on valproate, 42 months for those on carbamazepine, and 81 months for those on lithium. A statistical analysis known as a Cox regression model indicated that patients taking valproate had a significantly higher risk of having a manic or depressive episode than those taking lithium.

Editor’s note: These naturalistic data are highly consistent with a number of more controlled clinical studies. In particular, the BALANCE study by Geddes et al. (2010) reported that lithium was superior to valproate on most outcome measures in a two-year randomized study, and that the combination of lithium and valproate was significantly better than valproate alone. Read more

Dopamine D2 and D3 Agonist Pramipexole May Enhance Cognitive Function in Bipolar I Disorder

September 7, 2011 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

Cognitive Functioning

Anil Malhotra from the Zucker Hillside Hospital found that pramipexole (Mirapex), a dopamine D2 and D3 agonist used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, improved measures of processing speed and working memory in euthymic bipolar patients (whose average age was 42) when compared with placebo in an adjunctive clinical trial.

Editor’s Note: Bipolar patients in a euthymic phase have consistently been shown to have some degree of cognitive dysfunction that is typically correlated with the number of prior depressive and/or manic episodes they have experienced. This is one of the first studies to directly target this cognitive dysfunction with a pharmacotherapeutic agent.

Pramipexole may be of additional value among depressed patients, because in two small, placebo-controlled studies, one led by Carlos Zarate at the National Institute of Mental Health and one led by Joseph F. Goldberg in New York, pramipexole has been shown to exert acute antidepressant effects in bipolar patients in the depressive phase of the illness. The new data from Malhotra raise the possibility that there could be a two-for-one benefit when pramipexole is used in the depressive phase of bipolar illness—improvement in both depression and cognition.

Other approaches to improving cognition in patients with bipolar disorder

Read more

Valnoctamide Effective in Mania, Maybe Without Valproate’s Side Effects

February 3, 2011 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

valproateValproate (Depakote), also known as divalproex sodium and valproic acid (VPA), is highly effective in the treatment of mania, seizures, and migraine. However, its use in pregnant mothers can cause birth defects and developmental delay. A closely related compound, valnoctamide, may not pose the same dangers, but its efficacy in mania has only recently been investigated.

Yuly Bersudsky et al. reported at the 4th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil in March that valnoctamide was more effective than placebo as an add-on to risperidone for the treatment of mania.

Since there is now evidence that valnoctamide does work in mania, it is plausible that some of the shared characteristics of valproate and valnoctamide, such as increasing brain GABA and blocking sodium channels, are responsible for both drugs’ antimanic effects. Read more

Faster, Better Response to Risperidone than Valproate in Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder

January 7, 2011 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

An article by Pavuluri et al. published in Bipolar Disorders in September reported that both divalproex sodium (valproate, or Depakote) and risperidone (Risperdol) were effective in youth with bipolar disorder, but improvements appeared more quickly with risperidone.  Risperidone also produced higher response rates, higher remission rates, and fewer dropouts from side effects.

A presentation by the research group at an earlier conference suggested that it was particularly among those with comorbid disruptive behavioral disorders (DBD), which include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and conduct disorder (CD), that risperidone worked faster and produced greater early results  than divalproex.

risperidoneIn the study, 66 children with type I bipolar disorder and a mean age of 11 years were assessed. Treatment with risperidone was initiated at 0.5 mg/day and titrated to 2 mg, while divalproex was initiated at 60 micrograms/mL and titrated up to 120 micrograms.

Editor’s Note: The possibility that children with different comorbid disorders respond differently to different antimanic agents suggests that more studies are needed to determine which subgroups of patients are most responsive to typical treatments.

One Expert’s Personal Treatment Algorithm for Bipolar Disorder in Young Children

October 26, 2010 · Posted in Current Treatments, Resources · Comment 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Dr. Gagin Joshi of Massachusetts General Hospital, who presented the work on carbamazepine and lamotrigine on page 1 provided us with his own general treatment algorithm for youngsters with bipolar disorder.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (photo from ironmagazine.com)

Joshi typically starts with 0.5 to 2 gms of omega-3 fatty acids because of their benign side-effects profile, the many studies suggesting they are effective in adult mood disorders, and a recent article indicating that they were effective in preventing the conversion of prodromal schizophrenia into full-blown illness in a randomized double-blind controlled study in Australia.

After the omega-3 fatty acids, Joshi’s second choice is typically the atypical antipsychotic aripiprazole (Abilify) because of its lesser degree of weight gain compared to atypicals quetiapine (Seroquel) or risperidone (Risperidol). Risperidone can be a third option if aripiprazole is not effective or tolerated.

Read more

Lamotrigine plus Valproate: Better than Lamotrigine Alone for Bipolar Depression

June 17, 2010 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

In a study comparing valproate monotherapy with the combination of lamotrigine and divalproex (Valproate) extended release (ER), the combination appeared more effective in bipolar depression. At the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology meeting in December 2009, Vivek Singh, Charles Bowen, Richard Weisler, and colleagues from The University of California, San Diego reported on the randomized, double-blind, eight-month maintenance study of bipolar depressed patients.

Patients who could be stabilized for two consecutive weeks on the combination treatment of both lamotrigine and divalproex were then randomized to either lamotrigine alone or the combination for the duration of the study. Most of the data collected about these 87 subjects favored the treatment with the combination (lamotrigine plus divalproex) compared with lamotrigine alone. Combination therapy was superior for manic symptomatology and resulted in lower rates of unanticipated worsening of depression (greater than 20 points on the Montgomery-Asberg depression rating scale (MADRS)) that led to termination from the study than lamotrigine monotherapy did.
Read more

A Positive Placebo-Controlled Trial of Valproate (Depakote) in Autism

April 29, 2010 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

A recent issue of the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology reported that a placebo-controlled trial of valproate (Depakote) showed the drug is effective in treating irritability in those with autism. Approximately 50% of the participants were less irritable on valproate compared with only about 15% on placebo.  Valproate was also generally well-tolerated.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This is a particularly important finding, both for clinical treatment and for its potential theoretical implications.  Valproate, in addition to its properties as a mood-stabilizing anticonvulsant that increases brain GABA levels and exerts a variety of other neurobiological effects, is also a histone deacetylase inhibitor.

Read more

« Previous Page