Using Abilify for Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

Female depressed patient sitting on the bed in a hospital ward

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Abilify, known by the generic name aripiprazole, is an atypical antipsychotic medication that is approved to treat a number of disorders, including bipolar disorder. It's specifically used to treat manic and mixed episodes in bipolar disorder, either alone or in combination with other anti-manic medications.

Let's gain some insight into Abilify, like what health conditions it's used to treat, side effects, and two black box warnings. This way you feel informed if prescribed this medication.

What Is Abilify Used to Treat?

Abilify is approved to treat the following health conditions:

  • Schizophrenia in people age 13 or older
  • Bipolar I disorder in people age 10 or older
  • Major depressive disorder in adults—used in combination with another antidepressant when a person does not respond to that single antidepressant
  • Agitation associated with schizophrenia or bipolar mania
  • Agitation associated with autism spectrum disorder in children ages 6 to 17
  • Tourette syndrome in children and adolescents age 6 and older

Common Side Effects

In adults, common side effects include:

  • Akathisia
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea

Side effects in children are similar, with the addition of nose congestion, drooling, and changes in appetite.

Potential Serious Side Effects

Abilify may cause serious side effects, like:

  • Change in cholesterol levels
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Increase in blood sugar
  • Neuroleptic malignant syndrome, which is a potentially fatal complication characterized by symptoms like high fever, rigid muscles, and rapid swings in blood pressure
  • Orthostatic hypotension, or feeling lightheaded when moving from a ​lying or sitting position to a standing position too quickly, due to a drop in blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Tardive dyskinesia, which is a disorder that causes uncontrolled facial and other movements
  • Weight gain

Helpful Tips When Taking Abilify

Speak to your doctor right away if you are planning on getting pregnant or are pregnant. Animal studies suggest that Abilify may be harmful to the fetus, but it's not clear if that risk applies to humans. Your doctor can help you determine whether the benefits of taking Abilify outweigh any potential problems. Furthermore:

  • Never stop taking Abilify or change its dosage without first consulting with your healthcare provider.
  • Be sure to notify your doctor of all your medications, as your dose of Abilify may need to be changed based on this information. 
  • Do not drink alcohol while you are taking Abilify.
  • Avoid overheating and dehydration while on Abilify.
  • Abilify may also pass into breast milk, so be sure to discuss your therapy plan if breastfeeding or planning on breastfeeding.

Two Black Box Warnings on Abilify

Black box warnings are included on medications when they have the potential to cause serious, life-threatening side effects. Abilify carries two black box warnings from the FDA:

  • Increased mortality in elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis: Abilify is not FDA-approved to treat people with dementia-related psychosis, although it is sometimes used for this purpose. Treating elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis with an antipsychotic medication puts them at a somewhat increased risk of death.
  • Suicidality and antidepressant drugs: Although it is not an antidepressant, Abilify carries the standard warning that antidepressants may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in children, adolescents, and young adults.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Article Sources
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  1. Brown R, Taylor MJ, Geddes J. Aripiprazole alone or in combination for acute mania. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Dec 17;12:CD005000. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005000.pub2

  2. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Abilify (aripiprazole) tablets. Updated August 2019.