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BACKGROUND: Lithium is the established standard in the long-term treatment of bipolar disorder, but several new drugs have been assessed for this indication. We did a network meta-analysis to investigate the comparative efficacy and tolerability of available pharmacological treatment strategies for bipolar disorder. METHODS: We systematically searched Embase, Medline, PreMedline, PsycINFO, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials for randomised controlled trials published before June 28, 2013, that compared active treatments for bipolar disorder (or placebo), either as monotherapy or as add-on treatment, for at least 12 weeks. The primary outcomes were the number of participants with recurrence of any mood episode, and the number of participants who discontinued the trial because of adverse events. We assessed efficacy and tolerability of bipolar treatments using a random-effects network meta-analysis within a Bayesian framework. FINDINGS: We screened 114 potentially eligible studies and identified 33 randomised controlled trials, published between 1970 and 2012, that examined 17 treatments for bipolar disorder (or placebo) in 6846 participants. Participants assigned to all assessed treatments had a significantly lower risk of any mood relapse or recurrence compared with placebo, except for those assigned to aripiprazole (risk ratio [RR] 0·62, 95% credible interval [CrI] 0·38-1·03), carbamazepine (RR 0·68, 0·44-1·06), imipramine (RR 0·95, 0·66-1·36), and paliperidone (RR 0·84, 0·56-1·24). Lamotrigine and placebo were significantly better tolerated than carbamazepine (lamotrigine, RR 5·24, 1·07-26·32; placebo, RR 3·60, 1·04-12·94), lithium (RR 3·76, 1·13-12·66; RR 2·58, 1·33-5·39), or lithium plus valproate (RR 5·95, 1·02-33·33; RR 4·09, 1·01-16·96). INTERPRETATION: Although most of the drugs analysed were more efficacious than placebo and generally well tolerated, differences in the quality of evidence and the side-effect profiles should be taken into consideration by clinicians and patients. In view of the efficacy in prevention of both manic episode and depressive episode relapse or recurrence and the better quality of the supporting evidence, lithium should remain the first-line treatment when prescribing a relapse-prevention drug in patients with bipolar disorder, notwithstanding its tolerability profile. FUNDING: None.

Original publication




Journal article


Lancet Psychiatry

Publication Date





351 - 359