Bipolar Disorder Defined
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive disorder, results in frequent mood swings, from soaring highs-known as mania-to crashing lows-commonly known as depression. These changes in mood directly affect an individual’s activity levels, energy and ability to carry out simple everyday tasks. Each distinct period of mania or depression may last from just a few minutes to several months. Typically, those diagnosed with bipolar disorder will experience symptoms for the remainder of their lives and may jeopardize jobs, relationships and their health if the disease goes untreated. However, proper medication and treatment can help to control the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder and allow sufferers to live more fulfilling lives.
Who Gets Bipolar Disorder?
Each year, more than 2 million people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Family history and genetics play a major role in the likelihood of being diagnosed with the disorder. This illness is most commonly seen in those whose parents or siblings also suffer from the ailment. If a family member is already a sufferer, the chance of a second family member being diagnosed with the condition increases by 15 to 20 percent. The disease affects both men and women, but men tend to experience more manic episodes and women more depressive episodes. One in five people diagnosed with bipolar disorder are in their early 20s, but it is not unusual for children as young as elementary school age to be diagnosed with this disorder.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Every human being experiences a variety of feelings and moods including anger, frustration and happiness. For someone who suffers from bipolar disorder, these natural emotions can become unbearable. The main difference between normal emotions and bipolar disorder is the inability to function normally while experiencing these feelings. Bipolar disorder manifests differently in each patient, and the symptoms of the condition vary tremendously in pattern, frequency and severity. While some patients are either manic or depressive almost exclusively, others alternate between the two, often within a short period of time. Some patients have frequent mood disturbances and others only have a few throughout their lives. The four usual types of episodes are mania, depression, hypomania and mixed affective; each of these has its own symptoms.
Mania is the main characteristic of bipolar disorder. During manic episodes, patients experience heightened emotions and feelings such as bursts of energy, poor financial choices, easily distracted, aggressiveness, talking rapidly, weight loss and a decreasing need to sleep. In severe cases, patients may hallucinate or hear voices. Sometimes, after the manic episode passes, the person may feel shame or embarrassment about actions taken during this period.
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Hypomania can be described as a mild to moderate case of mania. While they share many of the same symptoms as those suffering from mania, hypomania sufferers retain the ability to carry out daily activities without losing touch with reality. Most people see someone with hypomania as simply being in an extremely good mood. In reality, people with hypomania tend to make poor decisions, and these often harm relationships, both personal and professional. Hypomania may escalate into mania over time.
In the depressed phase of bipolar disorder, patients experience extreme sadness, hopelessness, low self-esteem, lack of sleep, loss of energy and loss of interest in pleasurable things. In some cases, patients may have suicidal thoughts.
When patients have mixed affective episodes, they experience symptoms of both mania and depression. The patient feels depressed but becomes easily agitated and suffers from insomnia and anxiety. Sometimes, the patient can go from one extreme to the other in a matter of minutes; this can become unbearable not only to everyone else, but to the patient. When high energy is partnered with a low mood, the patient is more likely to be suicidal.
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed by a physician or psychologist based on a patient’s answers to a series of questions regarding individual experiences and emotions. The answers to those questions, in addition to observations by the professional, determine which form of bipolar disorder the patient has. Once the diagnosis is made, the doctor will determine which treatment is best for specific symptoms of the disorder.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
The characteristics of bipolar disorder often make it difficult to lead a productive life. Because of this, it is necessary for those who think they may have the condition to seek treatment. Treatment can include medication, therapy and self-help.
The doctor will usually prescribe some sort of medication once a diagnosis has been made. The type of medication prescribed will depend on which phase of the illness the patient is in. Usually, the doctor prescribes a mood stabilizer, such as lithium. Mood stabilizers, as the name implies, reduce the frequency of mood changes. Anticonvulsants also have the same affect, although they are typically used for seizure patients. Antidepressants, such as citalopram, may be prescribed for those patients in a depressive episode.
Psychotherapy is another important aspect of treating bipolar disorder. A psychologist can help patients determine the triggers for the condition such as stress, sleep deprivation or even seasonal changes. They can also help patients learn how to cope with the illness, teach them steps to take when an episode occurs and life strategies. Sometimes, the psychologist will ask for a family-focused session in which the patient’s family can learn coping strategies and how to recognize episodes. Additionally, psychologists will monitor medications to ensure that the patient is obtaining the required results and can prescribe different medication if required until the treatment is successful in managing the disorder’s symptoms.
Bipolar patients cannot rely completely on medical professionals and medication to treat the condition. Learning as much as possible about the disorder and how to deal with it can aid in the treatment process tremendously. Additionally, seeking support from family, keeping stress to a minimum, participating in support groups, making healthy choices and monitoring moods can manage the disease, permitting sufferers to live a generally symptom-free and happy life.
- Pendulum.org – Bipolar Disorder
- Stanford School of Medicine – The Bipolar and depression Research Program
- Umm.edu – Bipolar disorder – Introduction
- Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Manic depression; Bipolar affective disorder
- Wikipedia – Bipolar disorder