The most recent medications typically prescribed for bipolar disorder include a class of drugs called “atypical antipsychotics.” Atypical means they work in a manner that is significantly different than the previous class of antipsychotic medications. “Antipsychotic” refers to the fact that these medications were initially thought only to help people with psychosis (a common symptom of schizophrenia).

However, since their initial development, further research has demonstrated that this class of medications also can have helpful mood stabilizing properties. This means for someone with bipolar disorder, their moods swings will typically become less frequent and less intense.

There are seven commonly prescribed atypical antipsychotic medications for bipolar disorder:

Common side effects of these medications include weight gain and drowsiness. Weight gain can be a significant issue — most people taking an atypical antipsychotic can expect to gain weight. Because weight gain is also associated with an increased risk for Type II diabetes, individuals taking an atyptical antipsychotic should be carefully monitored by their physician. Exercise and a nutritional, balanced diet are also important.

It is a common misnomer that atypical antipsychotic medications have less side effects than other drugs. Atypical antipsychotic medications have significant side effects, it’s just that their side effect profile is different than that of most other drugs used to treat mental disorders. Your doctor cannot tell you whether a specific medication is going to help you or what side effects you will experience — only through a trial and error process will you find a medication that is effective for you with minimal side effects.

If you want to learn more about how to manage medication side effects, you’ll find this article helpful.

Psychiatrists will typically try a course of an atypical antipsychotic for the treatment of bipolar disorder before trying any other medication. Your psychiatrist may also prescribe an additional medication to help supplement the effectiveness of the atypical antipsychotic.

Always take all medications as directed and ask your doctor what to do if you miss a dose.