Lithium is a better treatment for bipolar disorder than valproate

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Valproate is widely used as a mood stabiliser for people with bipolar disorder, despite the fact that there is very little evidence that shows the effectiveness of this treatment.

This observational cohort study looked at over 4,000 bipolar patients in Denmark who were treated with lithium or valproate from 1995 to 2006.

The results favoured lithium:

  • The rate of switch/add on to the opposite drug (lithium or valproate), antidepressants, antipsychotics or anticonvulsants (other than valproate) was increased for valproate compared with lithium (hazard ratio (HR) = 1.86, 95% CI 1.59-2.16).
  • The rate of psychiatric hospital admissions was increased for valproate v. lithium (HR = 1.33, 95% CI 1.18-1.48) and regardless of the type of episode leading to a hospital admission (depressive or manic/mixed).
  • For participants with a depressive index episode (HR = 1.87, 95% CI 1.40-2.48), a manic index episode (HR = 1.24, 95% CI 1.01-1.51) and a mixed index episode (HR = 1.44, 95% CI 1.04-2.01), the overall rate of hospital admissions was significantly increased for valproate compared with lithium.

The authors concluded that:

In daily clinical practice, treatment with lithium seems in general to be superior to treatment with valproate.

Kessing LV, Hellmund G, Geddes JR, Goodwin GM, Andersen PK. Valproate v. lithium in the treatment of bipolar disorder in clinical practice: observational nationwide register-based cohort study. Br J Psychiatry. 2011 May 18. [Epub ahead of print] [PubMed abstract]

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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