What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) causes serious shifts in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior—from the highs of mania on one extreme to the lows of depression on the other. More than just a fleeting good or bad mood, the cycles of bipolar disorder last for days, weeks, or months. And unlike ordinary mood swings, the mood changes of bipolar disorder are so intense that they interfere with your ability to function.
During a manic episode, a person might impulsively quit a job, charge up huge amounts on credit cards, or feel rested after sleeping two hours. During a depressive episode, the same person might be too tired to get out of bed, and full of self-loathing and hopelessness over being unemployed and in debt.
The causes of bipolar disorder aren’t completely understood, but it often appears to be hereditary. The first manic or depressive episode of bipolar disorder usually occurs in the teenage years or early adulthood. The symptoms can be subtle and confusing; many people with bipolar disorder are overlooked or misdiagnosed—resulting in unnecessary suffering. But with proper treatment and support, you can lead a rich and fulfilling life.
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Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder:
Bipolar disorder can look very different in different people. The symptoms vary widely in their pattern, severity, and frequency. Some people are more prone to either mania or depression, while others alternate equally between the two types of episodes. Some have frequent mood disruptions, while others experience only a few over a lifetime.
Types of Bipolar Disorder:
There are four types of mood episodes in bipolar disorder: mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed episodes.
In the manic phase of bipolar disorder, feelings of heightened energy, creativity, and euphoria are common. People experiencing a manic episode often talk a mile a minute, sleep very little, and are hyperactive. They may also feel like they’re all-powerful, invincible, or destined for greatness.
But while mania feels good at first, it has a tendency to spiral out of control. People often behave recklessly during a manic episode: gambling away savings, engaging in the inappropriate sexual activity, or making foolish business investments, for example. They may also become angry, irritable, and aggressive—picking fights, lashing out when others don’t go along with their plans, and blaming anyone who criticizes their behavior. Some people even become delusional or start hearing voices.
Symptoms of mania:
- Feeling unusually “high” and optimistic OR extremely irritable
- Unrealistic, grandiose beliefs about one’s abilities or powers
- Sleeping very little, but feeling extremely energetic
- Talking so rapidly that others can’t keep up
- Racing thoughts; jumping quickly from one idea to the next
- Highly distractible, unable to concentrate
- Impaired judgment and impulsiveness
- Acting recklessly without thinking about the consequences
- Delusions and hallucinations (in severe cases)
Hypomania describes milder symptoms of mania, in which someone does not have delusions or hallucinations, and their high symptoms do not interfere with their everyday life.
Symptoms of Depression:
- Loss of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Not enjoying things they once liked
- Trouble concentrating
- Uncontrollable crying
- Trouble making decisions
- Needing more sleep
- InsomniaAppetite changes that make them lose or gain weight
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Attempting suicide
Causes of Bipolar Disorder:
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but several factors may be involved, such as:
- Biological differences. People with bipolar disorder appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
- Genetics. Bipolar disorder is more common in people who have a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, with the condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing bipolar disorder.
Factors that may increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder or act as a trigger for the first episode include:
- Having a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with bipolar disorder
- Periods of high stress, such as the death of a loved one or other traumatic event
- Drug or alcohol abuse
Left untreated, bipolar disorder can result in serious problems that affect every area of your life, such as:
- Problems related to drug and alcohol use
- Suicide or suicide attempts
- Legal or financial problems
- Damaged relationships
- Poor work or school performance
- Treatment is best guided by a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions (psychiatrist) who is skilled in treating bipolar and related disorders. You may have a treatment team that also includes a psychologist, social worker, and psychiatric nurse.
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Treatment of Bipolar Disease:
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition. Treatment is directed at managing symptoms. Depending on your needs, treatment may include:
- Medications. Often, you’ll need to start taking medications to balance your moods right away.
- Continued treatment. Bipolar disorder requires lifelong treatment with medications, even during periods when you feel better. People who skip maintenance treatment are at high risk of a relapse of symptoms or having minor mood changes turn into full-blown mania or depression.
- Day treatment programs. Your doctor may recommend a day treatment program. These programs provide the support and counseling you need while you get symptoms under control.
- Substance abuse treatment. If you have problems with alcohol or drugs, you’ll also need substance abuse treatment. Otherwise, it can be very difficult to manage bipolar disorder.
- Hospitalization. Your doctor may recommend hospitalization if you’re behaving dangerously, you feel suicidal or you become detached from reality (psychotic). Getting psychiatric treatment at a hospital can help keep you calm and safe and stabilize your mood, whether you’re having a manic or major depressive episode.
- The primary treatments for bipolar disorder include medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy) to control symptoms, and also may include education and support groups.
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