Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental
illness that involves the sufferer having at least one manic (overly
excited or irritable mood) or nearly manic (hypo - manic) episode. The mood
swings of this condition can last for weeks at a time and cause
significant work and relationship problems. This illness affects up to
5% of adults in the United States, afflicting men and women equally.
Depressive Phase Symptoms
The depressive symptoms that may be
experienced in bipolar disorder are those of any major depressive
episode, including significant sadness, irritability, hopelessness, and
an increase or decrease in appetite, weight, or sleep. Bipolar
depression can result in sufferers wanting, planning, or attempting to
kill themselves or someone else.
Manic Phase Symptoms
The manic symptoms of bipolar
disorder can include the sufferer having a grossly excessive sense of
well-being or abilities, racing thoughts, decreased sleep, and speech
that is rapid to the point of being hard to decipher. Manic individuals
may also engage in unwise activities such as excessive sexual behaviors
Bipolar I vs. Bipolar II
In order to receive the diagnosis of
bipolar I disorder, a person must experience at least one full-blown
manic episode in their lifetime. Individuals with bipolar II disorder
experience at least one hypo - manic episode, in that they have symptoms
less severe than fully manic symptoms.
Many people with bipolar disorder
also have mixed features associated with their mood swings. This
involves experiencing symptoms of depression during manic or hypo- manic
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
While no single cause of bipolar
disorder has been identified, there are a number of factors that
contribute to the development of this illness. Decreases in the activity
of different parts of the brain have been observed when individuals
with bipolar disorder are having depressive or manic episodes.
Bipolar Disorder: Who's at Risk?
The symptoms of bipolar disorder tend
to have two peaks of when they begin: between 15 and 25 and from 45-54
years of age. Other risk factors for bipolar disorder include having a
close family history of depression or bipolar disorder (mood disorder)
or a family history of substance-abuse disorder. Life stresses such as sexual
abuse may also trigger the onset of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder and Daily Life
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can
interfere with a person's ability to work, achieve in school, and
maintain relationships. People with this disorder are also at risk for
having other medical and mental-health problems.
Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse
Having bipolar disorder can increase
the likelihood of the sufferer developing a substance-abuse problem from
22% to more than 50%. Some people with bipolar disorder may drink to
numb their manic or depressive symptoms, a behavior often referred to as
Bipolar Disorder and Suicide
Up to 10% of people with bipolar
disorder commit suicide, 10 times the risk of people who have no
mental-health disorder. Possible signs someone is planning to commit
suicide include giving away belongings and otherwise putting affairs in
order. If you or a loved one has thoughts of suicide, immediately
contact a suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) and
1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Anyone who has planned or attempted to
commit suicide should immediately be taken to the closest hospital
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
When mental-health professionals
assess a person for bipolar disorder, they gather a detailed history and
conduct a mental-status examination. The history will explore the
possibility that the person's symptoms are caused by a medical condition
such as a neurological or endocrine problem, medication side effect, or
exposure to a toxin. The professional will also seek to distinguish
symptoms of bipolar disorder from other mental-health problems, such as a
substance-use disorder, depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia.
Medications for Bipolar Disorder
Medications are an important and
effective part of treating bipolar disorder and include mood
stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antiseizure medications. All these
medications have been found to help even out and prevent the mood swings
suffered by bipolar disordered individuals. Antidepressant medication
may trigger mood swings in people with this disorder.
Lifestyle Tips for Bipolar Disorder
As is the case with other mental
disorders, good self-care is an essential part of getting optimal
results from talk therapy and medications. People with bipolar disorder
should work on getting at least eight hours of sleep per night,
exercising regularly, maintaining good nutrition, and avoiding alcohol
or drug abuse. When bipolar-disordered individuals learn their warning
signs for the onset of a manic or depressive episode, they are more able
to prevent full-blown mood swings.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can
be a very effective treatment for any mood state of bipolar disorder
(depressive, manic, or mixed) and involves inducing seizures by sending
an electrical current through parts of the brain. ECT can bring relief
of symptoms to people who have not received relief from psychotherapy or
medications. It can also be an effective maintenance treatment,
preventing mood swings from returning.
Educating Friends and Family
Given the important role family
members can play in the recovery and long-term progress of their loved
ones with bipolar disorder, educating family members and helping them
improve communication and problem-solving skills is an important part of
improving the life of people with this disorder.
When Someone Needs Help
If you are concerned a family member
or loved one may be suffering from bipolar disorder, speak openly with
them and seek help from a trusted health-care professional. Often,
educating your loved one that many people who have this disorder lead
highly productive, satisfying lives with treatment can go a long way
toward helping them accept help for themselves.
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