Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Parktown, 2193, Johannesburg, South Africa


To describe the range and frequency of psychotropics used in the management of bipolar disorder in a specific setting as well as describe the nature and frequency of monotherapy versus polypharmacy use. Specifically to determine congruence with recommended standard of care that might inform a review and refinement of prescribing within this context.
The study was a retrospective file review for patients with bipolar disorder (ICD 10 and or DSM IV TR diagnostic criteria) attending the outpatient clinic of a specialised psychiatric hospital (Tara Hospital) affiliated to the Department of Psychiatry (University of the Witwatersrand) in Johannesburg, South Africa. Data were presented both descriptively (continuous, discrete and categorical data) and with a range of appropriate statistical tests used for associations between categorical data (Chi Square; Fisher’s exact test; Cramer’s V and the phi coefficient).
The majority of patients (93.8%) were prescribed polypharmacy, with 3.2 as the mean number of psychotropic medications prescribed per patient (as determined from the last prescription written during the period of review, i.e. one year). There was a notable variety in the combinations used with no particular combination being prescribed in the majority of patients, noting, however, that 47% of the combinations used included a standard mood stabiliser prescribed together with an antipsychotic.
The current study provides data on the prescribing patterns for bipolar disorder in a specialist psychiatric clinic within an academic complex in South Africa. The findings reflect international studies and highlight polypharmacy and combination treatment as common in such settings. Where polypharmacy is prescribed, the variation in combinations prescribed indicate that whilst treatment guidelines may provide a best practice approach, studies determining the most useful combinations are few and ultimately clinical requirements for individual patients will dictate treatment.