Published April 05, 2012
Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depressive illness, and as both names suggest, this mental disorder creates a state of flux between two mood extremes. According to the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, bipolar disorder will occur in approximately one in every 100 adults. A manic-depressive individual may experience long stretches of depression followed by periods of excess, upbeat energy. Here is a guide to understanding the ups and downs of bipolar disorder:
Typically, bipolar disorder first manifests in adolescence or in your early 20s. Akin to a physical ailment like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder can be controlled with lifelong management. Left untreated, bipolar disorder worsens over time. It can affect your daily life, making it a challenge to enjoy healthy relationships or succeed in school or work. In extreme cases, bipolar disorder can lead to suicide. While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, there are a number of ways to treat the disorder and significantly improve an afflicted individual’s quality of life.
There are four primary types of bipolar disorder, depending on the frequency and severity of symptoms. Bipolar I disorder is marked by manic episodes that last at least seven days and depressive episodes that last at least two weeks. Those classified with bipolar II disorder are those who have shorter, less extreme highs, called hypomanic episodes. Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BD-NOS) is a catch-all diagnosis for people who have some of the symptoms but do not quite fit the bill for bipolar I or II disorders. Cyclothymia is the least severe form of bipolar disorder, and individuals with cyclothymia usually experience hypomanic episodes with mild depression.
The symptoms for bipolar disorder can be classified into depression or mania. Depression causes a wide range of psychological symptoms including: apathy, pervasive feelings of unhappiness, loss of self-confidence, irritability, indecision and suicidal thoughts. Depression can also result in physical symptoms such as fatigue, restlessness, agitation, insomnia or oversleeping and a decreased sex drive. The symptoms of mania are likewise mental and physical. The psychological symptoms of mania include: feelings of extreme happiness and excitement, impulsiveness, a short attention span, taking on a lot of new projects and making unrealistic plans. Mania can cause physical symptoms like sleeplessness, rapid speech and body movement and hypersexuality. Some people can experience the symptoms of mania and depression simultaneously, resulting in a mixed state.
There is no known definitive cause for bipolar disorder, although researchers are certain that genetics play a large role. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, individuals with a manic-depressive parent or sibling are up to six times more likely to have the illness themselves. On the neurological level, abnormal brain functioning could be at the root of bipolar disorder. Scientists are currently researching the relationship between bipolar disorder and the brain. Bipolar disorder can occur with other physical and mental disorders. It has commonly been found alongside substance abuse, anxiety disorders and attention deficit hyperactitivity disorder (ADHD). Manic-depressive individuals are also at risk for physical ailments like thyroid disease, migraine headaches, heart disease and obesity. The research remains unclear as to whether these are caused by bipolar disorder or if individuals with these illnesses are more likely to experience manic-depression.
Bipolar disorder is generally treated with a combination of therapy and medication, usually prescribed by a psychiatrist. There are basically three types of medications used in treatment: mood stabilizers, antidepressants and atypical antipsychotic medications. Mood stabilizing medications are the most common prescription for bipolar disorder. While these medications also function as anticonvulsants, they can help manage mood swings. Antidepressants can help control the symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder, while atypical antipsychotic medication is usually aimed toward mitigating the symptoms of mania. In addition to a medically-oriented treatment regimen, important lifestyle adjustments can help a person manage his or her bipolar disorder. These include sleeping regularly, maintaining a consistent daily routine, avoiding alcohol and unprescribed drugs, limiting caffeine and regular physical exercise.