New treatment guidelines for acute bipolar depression: a systematic review

J Affect Disord. 2011 Mar;129(1-3):14-26. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2010.05.018. Epub 2010 Jun 9.


Introduction: Bipolar depression poses a great burden on patients and their families due to its duration, associated functional impairment, and limited treatment options. Given the complexity of the disorder and the advances in treatment, a number of clinical guidelines, consensus statements and expert opinions were developed with the aim to standardize treatment and provide clinicians with treatment algorithms for every-day clinical practice. Unfortunately, they often led to conflicting conclusions and recommendations due to limitations of the available literature. As findings emerge from research literature, guidelines quickly become obsolete and need to be updated or revised. Many guidelines have been updated in the last 5 years, after the last review of bipolar disorder (BD) treatment guidelines.

Objective: The purpose of this work is to systematically review guidelines, consensus meetings and treatment algorithms on the acute treatment of bipolar depression updated or published since 2005, to critically underline common and critical points, highlight limits and strengths, and provide a starting point for future research

Materials and methods: The MEDLINe/PubMed/Index Medicus, PsycINFO/PsycLIT, Excerpta Medica/EMBASE, databases were searched using "depression", "bipolar", "manic-depression", "manic-depressive" and "treatment guidelines" as key words

Results: The search returned 204 articles. Amongst them, there were 28 papers concerning structured treatment algorithms and/or guidelines suggested by official panels. After excluding those guidelines that were not performed by scientific societies or international groups and those published before 2005, the final selection yielded 7 papers When looking into guidelines content, the results indicate a trend to the gradual acceptance of the use of the atypical antipsychotic quetiapine as monotherapy as first-line treatment. Antidepressant monotherapy is discouraged in most of them, although some support the use of antidepressants in combination with antimanic agents for a limited period of time. Lamotrigine has become a highly controversial option.

Conclusion: The management of bipolar depression is complex and should be differentiated from management of unipolar depression. Guidelines may be useful instruments for helping clinicians to choose and plan bipolar depression treatment by integrating the more updated scientific knowledge with every-day clinical practice and patient-specific factors; however, a further effort is needed in order to improve guidelines implementation in clinical practice. The latest updates on treatment guidelines for bipolar depression give priority to novel treatment approaches, such as quetiapine, over more traditional ones, such as lithium or antidepressants. Lamotrigine is a controversial option.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bipolar Disorder / drug therapy
  • Bipolar Disorder / therapy*
  • Child
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Psychotherapy


  • Antidepressive Agents