Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by an alternating pattern of emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression). The intensity of signs and symptoms can vary from mild to severe. The “mood swings” between mania and depression can be very quick.

Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally, and symptoms usually begin between ages 15 – 25. The exact cause of is unknown, but it occurs more often in relatives of people with the disorder. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million American adults.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three commonly recognized types:

  • Type I is characterized by at least one manic episode and periods of major depression. In the past, bipolar disorder type I was called manic depression. The usual treatment for Bipolar I Disorder is lifelong therapy with a mood-stabilizer (either lithiumcarbamazepine, or divalproex/valproic acid) often in combination with an antipsychotic medication. Usually treatment results in a dramatic decrease in suffering, and causes an eight fold reduction in suicide risk.
  • Type II is characterized by periods of high energy levels and impulsiveness that are not as extreme as mania (called hypomania). These periods alternate with episodes of depression.
  • Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder, involves less severe mood swings. People with this form alternate between hypomania and mild depression.

Causes of Manic & Depressive Bipolar Disorder

Typically with bipolar disorder, there is no clear cause for the manic or depressive episodes. The following may trigger an episode in people with bipolar disorder:

  • A significant life change such as childbirth
  • Medications such as antidepressants or steroids
  • Periods of sleeplessness
  • Recreational drug use

Depressive Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, isolation
  • Disturbances in sleep and appetite
  • Fatigue and loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loneliness, apathy or isolation
  • Social anxiety
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Loss of interest in sexual activity

Manic Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

  • Euphoria
  • Increase in energy and decreased need for sleep
  • Pressured speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Short attention span
  • Feeling easily distracted
  • Aggressive or intolerant behaviorImpaired judgment
  • Indulgence in substance abuse, particularly alcohol or other depressants
  • Increased sexual drive

Bipolar Treatment

Bipolar Treatment falls into three categories:

Acute treatment, which suppresses current symptoms and continues until remission, which occurs when the symptoms are diminished for a period of time.

Continuation treatment, which prevents a return of symptoms from the same episode.

Maintenance treatment, which prevents a recurrence of symptoms.

The risks of long-term medication use must be weighed against the risk of relapse.

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