Complex polypharmacy in bipolar disorder: Side effect burden, adherence, and response predictors

Vicki C. Fung, Lindsay N. Overhage, Louisa G. Sylvia, Noreen A. Reilly-Harrington, Masoud Kamali, Keming Gao, Richard C. Shelton, Terence A. Ketter, William V. Bobo, Michael E. Thase, Joseph R. Calabrese, Mauricio Tohen, Thilo Deckersbach, Andrew A. Nierenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Complex polypharmacy (CP) is common in bipolar disorder (BD). We assessed the associations between CP, adherence, and side effect burden, and patient traits associated with clinical improvement in relationship to CP. Methods: We conducted a secondary analysis of 482 adult BD participants in the Bipolar CHOICE trial. We examined the associations between CP (use of ≥3 BD medications) and non-adherence (missing >30% of BD medication doses in the last 30 days) and side effect burden (Frequency, Intensity and Burden of Side Effects Rating scale) using multivariate models with patient random effects. We used logistic regression to assess the patient traits associated with remission among those with majority CP use (Clinical Global Impression-Severity for BD score ≤2 for 8+ weeks). Results: 43% of patients had any CP and 25% had CP for the majority of the study. CP was associated with non-adherence (OR = 2.51, 95% CI [1.81, 3.50]), but not worse side effect burden. Among those with CP, 16% achieved remission; those with non-adherence, comorbid social or generalized anxiety disorder, or BD I vs. II were less likely to achieve remission among those with CP. Limitations: There could be unmeasured confounding between use of CP and side effect burden or adherence. Adherence was measured by self-report, which could be subject to reporting error. Conclusions: BD patients with CP were less likely to adhere to therapy, and those with worse adherence to CP were less likely to clinically respond. Clinicians should assess medication adherence prior to adding another agent to medication regimens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-22
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • Bipolar disorder
  • Complex polypharmacy
  • Medication adherence
  • Polypharmacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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