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Bipolar Disorder

Definition:

Bipolar disorder, which is sometimes referred to as manic-depressive disorder, is a brain disorder associated with mood swings. The mood swings are extreme and can range from highs of euphoria to lows of hopelessness and depression.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can affect one’s daily life negatively and may even lead to suicide if left untreated.

Causes:

There is no specific cause of bipolar disorder, but it is most likely a combination of the following factors:

  • Biological factors

People with bipolar disorder may have physical changes in their brains. Research on this factor is still not complete; studies are still trying to understand how these changes are related to the disorder.

  • Inherited traits

People with blood relatives who have bipolar disorder are more likely to get it.

  • Hormones

Imbalances in levels of hormones can be a cause or trigger of the disorder.

  • Neurotransmitters

Imbalances in levels of neurotransmitters are a major factor to consider regarding bipolar disorder and other mood disorders.

  • Environmental factors

Factors such as abuse, stress, loss or other traumatizing events can increase the risk of bipolar disorder.

Symptoms:

Symptoms of bipolar disorder differ according to which mood state the person is in. The person may be in the manic state or the depressive state. These states are referred to as episodes.

Manic state symptoms:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased energy and hyperactivity
  • Inflated sense of self esteem
  • Racing thoughts and rapid speech
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Impaired judgment
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Increased sex drive
  • Reckless behavior such as unprotected sex, drug use or binge drinking
  • Irritability
  • Absences from work/school
  • Poor performance at work/school
  • An increased desire to fulfill goals
  • Easily distracted
  • Unwise financial decisions

Depressive state symptoms:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness, worthlessness and despair
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Change in eating patterns
  • Uncontrollable crying and tearfulness
  • Excessive feelings of guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once pleasurable
  • Anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained chronic pain
  • Irritability
  • Weight changes
  • Impaired concentration
  • Absences from work/school
  • Poor performance at work/school

Types:

There are three main types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I disorder

This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by one or more mixed episodes or manic episodes. Patients usually have had at least one depressive episode.

  • Bipolar II disorder

This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by one or more depressive episodes, accompanied by at least one manic episode.

  • Cyclothymic disorder

This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by less severe mood swings.

Diagnosis:

It is important to first rule out any other underlying cause for the mood swings, so your doctor will first conduct a physical exam and some tests. If there is no physical cause, they will refer you to a mental health specialist.

A mental health specialist will review your symptoms in detail. Sometimes they request a mood chart, which is like a diary of one’s daily mood and habits such as sleeping patterns. If you give them permission, they can also talk to your family members to know more about the episodes.

Treatment:

Your treatment can either be a certain type of therapy with your mental health specialist, specific medications or a combination of both.

Medications are taken to stabilize mood swings. These can include lithium, anti-psychotics, anticonvulsants or other types of medications.

Therapy types can include cognitive behavioral therapy or family therapy.

If you commit to your treatment plan, your symptoms will eventually improve. Don’t forget to ask your doctor about any possible side effects of medications.


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