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Viewed in the context of ever-expanding conceptual boundaries for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder including the spectrum concept of DSM-IV, or even beyond (Akiskal and Pinto, 1999), it becomes obvious that lithium is the treatment of choice in a minority′ of patients only (Bowden et al, 2000). This article reviews what additional benefit atypical antipsychotics may provide in patients with bipolar disorder.
Due both to tradition and to the regulatory requirements in the USA (FDA) and European Union (EMEA), the main target of clinical trials with atypical antipsychotics has been typical manic disorder. More recently, a significant subgroup of atypical patients, e.g., with mixed states, marked psychosis, or rapid cycling, have participated in these studies to allow an estimation of the value of atypical antipsychotics in these conditions. For the purposes of filing applications for registration with the regulatory agencies, the existing evidence is probably weak, however; from a clinical perspective, it is important that most atypical antipsychotics have also been tested in combination treatments.
Finally, first data are now available on long-term prophylactic efficacy of atypical antipsychotics. These combined efficacy data definitely support the use of atypical antipsychotics in bipolar disorder, and it is now the time to collect more experience with these substances in severely ill patients in clinical settings.