Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain and behavior disorder characterized by severe shifts in a person’s mood and energy, making it difficult for the person to function. They go from very happy, ‘up,’ and active to very sad and hopeless, ‘down,’ and inactive, and then back again. During these abnormal shifts, the patient commonly finds it difficult to complete everyday tasks.
The condition typically starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, although it can show up in children and in older adults. People often live with the disorder without having it properly diagnosed and treated.
It usually begins in late adolescence (often appearing as depression during the teen years), although it can start in early childhood or later in life. An equal number of men and women develop this illness, and it is found among all ages, races, ethnic groups, and social classes. The illness tends to run in families and appears to have a genetic link.
Other conditions that may present in a similar manner include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, personality disorders, schizophrenia
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.
Shifting from Mania to Depression
People with bipolar disorder have alternating episodes of extreme euphoria (mania) and major depression
- Mania – this is the period of euphoria, restlessness, energy, recklessness, and much talking.The patient may go on emotional and mental sprees. It is during this period that the patient is most likely to engage in risky behaviors, including risky sex.
- Depression – this is the opposite mood extreme of mania. The patient feels sad, may cry a lot, has a sense of being worthless, energy levels are extremely low, there is loss of pleasure, and sleep problems.
Causes of bipolar disorder
There is not one single cause that scientists can pinpoint to tell you why you are suffering from bipolar disorder. But, it appears genetics are likely to account for around 60-80% of the risk for developing bipolar disorder – indicating the key role heredity plays in this condition. Below are some of the factors that can cause bipolar disorder
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder causes repeated mood swings, or episodes, that can make someone feel very high (mania) or very low (depressive). The cyclic episodes are punctuated by normal moods.
Mania Episode Signs and Symptoms:
- Increased energy, activity, restlessness
- Euphoric mood
- Extreme irritability
- Poor concentration
- Racing thoughts, fast talking, jumping between ideas
- Heightened sense of self-importance
- Spending sprees
- Increased sexual behavior
- Abuse of drugs, such as cocaine, alcohol and sleeping medications
- Provocative, intrusive or aggressive behavior
- Denial that anything is wrong
Depressive Episode Signs:
- Sad, anxious or empty-feeling mood
- Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy, fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
- Restlessness and irritability
- Sleeplessness or sleeping too much
- Change in appetite, unintended weight loss or gain
- Bodily symptoms not caused by physical illness or injury
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Treatment of Bipolar Disorder
While no cure exists for bipolar disorder, it is treatable and manageable with psychotherapy and medications. Mood stabilizing medications are usually the first choice in medication. Lithium is the most commonly prescribed mood stabilizer. Anticonvulsant medications are usually used to treat seizure disorders, and sometimes offer similar mood-stabilizing effects as antipsychotics and antidepressants.
If the symptoms are left untreated, a bout of depression/mania can persist for up to one year. With treatment, however, improvements are seen within the first three to four months.
Treatment for bipolar disorder includes a combination of different therapies, which may include:
- Prescription medications – aimed at reducing the frequency of depression/mania/hypomania episodes.
- Prescription medications – aimed at tackling mania/depression symptoms when they appear.
- Depression/mania triggers – helping the patient identify and take steps to deal with or avoid depression/mania triggers.
- Lifestyle – encouraging the patient to adopt lifestyle habits which help them get good quality sleep, eat healthily, and become more physically active – together, they can have an overall impact on several factors which influence bipolar symptoms and severity.
In addition to medication, psychotherapy provides support, guidance and education to people with bipolar disorder and their families. Psychotherapeutic interventions increase mood stability, decrease hospitalizations and improve overall functioning. Common techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, and family therapy.