What is it?
Bipolar disorder is an illness that affects thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and behavior. A person with this disorder experiences moods that shift from high (mania-severely elevated) to low (depression-sadness and hopelessness) and back again in varying degrees of severity (the two poles of the disorder are mania and depression). It is also known as “manic depression” or “manic-depressive illness”.
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A person who has depression and mania is said to have Bipolar I Disorder. Bipolar II Disorder involves symptoms of hypomania – a less extreme form of a manic episode.
Who Does it Affect?
About 2.6% of the U.S. adult population has bipolar disorder.
It is equally common in men and women in the United States.
Young people under the age of thirty (30) are at greater risk than older people for developing bipolar disorder.
The first episode in men is usually a manic episode. Women are more likely to experience depression as a first episode of their bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder tends to run in families. It is quite likely that if you have bipolar disorder, you have close relatives who also have bipolar disorder or depressed moods.
Signs and Symptoms
Periods of elevated moods, or mania, alternating with periods of depression
Characteristics associated with mania include:
- Decreased sleep
- Rapid speech
- Difficulty focusing attention
- Abundance of energy
- Inflated self-esteem
- Grandiose or lofty plans
- Poor judgment
- Hypersexual feelings
If not controlled, mania can escalate and become a severe condition with psychotic behavior.
Depressive characteristics include:
- Increased or decreased sleep
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Severe sadness
- Crying spells
- Loss of joy
- Loss of interest in activities
The cause of Bipolar disorder is believed to be a combination of factors –
a family history, a high or low level of a specific neurotransmitter – such as serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine – and stressful life events.
Screening and Diagnosis
Medical History and Physical – There are no lab tests for identifying bipolar disorder. But your doctor may conduct a medical history and physical exam in order to rule out illnesses or medications which might be causing your symptoms. Screening for thyroid disorders is particularly important, as they can cause mood swings that mimic bipolar disorder.
Psychiatric History – Your doctor or specialist will conduct a complete psychiatric history. You will answer questions about your symptoms, the history of the problem, any treatment you’ve previously received, and your family history of mood disorders.
If your doctor determines that you have bipolar disorder, he or she will explain your treatment options and possibly prescribe medication for you to take.
You may also be referred to another mental health professional, such as a psychologist, counselor, or a bipolar disorder specialist.
Together, you will work with your healthcare providers to develop a personalized treatment plan that aims to alleviate current symptoms, prevent future mood episodes, and address any relationship or occupational problems caused by the illness.
A treatment plan that combines psychotherapy with medication is often the best strategy for meeting these goals.
Because bipolar disorder can affect all aspects of your life, learning all you can about the disorder and how to manage it is vital.
Manage your disorder by keeping a daily mood chart to track your own episodes and symptoms.
Keeping a daily journal will help you find connections between your reactions to stressors and their connection to mood shifts.
Communicate with your doctor and therapist about what’s happening with you and take an active part in your treatment plan.