Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings. It affects about 2% of people worldwide. Find out more about bipolar disorder here!
Bipolar Disorder Definition
Bipolar disorder is a condition that features extreme shifts in mood and fluctuations in energy and activity levels that can make day-to-day living difficult. Previously known as manic depression, it is a serious mental illness that, if left untreated, can destroy relationships, undermine career prospects, and seriously affect academic performance. Sometimes, it can lead to suicide.
Diagnosis most commonly occurs between the ages of 15 and 25 years, but it can happen at any age. It affects males and females equally.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Here are some key points about bipolar disorder.
- Bipolar disorder is a serious condition that involves severe abnormalities in the mood.
- The person experiences alternating bouts of mania or hypomania and depression, which may involve psychosis.
- Episodes may last several weeks or months, with periods of stability in between.
- It can be managed with medication, but it may take some time to find the right dose and combination.
Extreme euphoria, or mania, and major depression are the major symptoms of the disorder. The fluctuations can be severe, but moods may be normal between the peaks and troughs. The mood swings involved in bipolar disorder are far more severe, debilitating, and incapacitating than those experienced by most people. Hallucinations and other symptoms may occur in some people.
With treatment, many people with the condition can work, study, and live a full and productive life. However, some people stop taking their medication or choose not to take it.
Some studies have shown that people with bipolar disorder may have enhanced creativity. However, mood swings can make it hard to sustain attention to projects or follow through with plans, resulting in the person having a lot of projects started, but nothing finished.
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What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder Symptoms vary between people, and according to mood. Some people have clear mood swings, with symptoms of mania and then of depression, each lasting for several months, or with months of stability between them. Some spend months or years in a “high” or “low” mood. A “mixed state” is when a manic and a depressive episode happen at the same time. The person may feel negative, as with depression, but they may also feel “wired” and restless.
Mania or Hypomania Symptoms
Hypomania and mania refer to a “high” mood. Mania is a more severe form.
- impaired judgment
- feeing “wired”
- a sense of distraction or boredom
- missing work or school, or underperforming
- thinking they can “do anything”
- a belief that nothing is wrong,
- being extremely forthcoming, sometimes aggressively so
- likelihood of engaging in risky behavior
- a sense of being on top of the world, exhilarated, or euphoric
- excessive self-confidence, an inflated sense of self-esteem and self-importance
- excessive and rapid talking, pressurized speech that may jump from one topic to another
- “racing” thoughts that come and go quickly, and bizarre ideas that the person may act upon
This may include squandering money, abusing illegal drugs or alcohol, and taking part in dangerous activities. A higher libido may lead to promiscuity.
During a depressive episode, the person may experience:
- a feeling of gloom, blackness, despair, and hopelessness
- extreme sadness
- insomnia and sleeping problems
- anxiety about trivial things
- pain or physical problems that do not respond to treatment
- guilt, and a feeling that everything that goes wrong or appears to be wrong is their fault
- changes in eating patterns, whether eating more or eating less
- weight loss or weight gain
- extreme tiredness, fatigue, and listlessness
- an inability to enjoy activities or interests that usually give pleasure
- low attention span and difficulty remembering
- irritation, possibly triggered by noises, smells, tight clothing, and other things that would usually be tolerated or ignored
- an inability to face going to work or school, possibly leading to underperformance
In severe cases, the individual may think about ending their life, and they may act on those thoughts.
Psychosis can occur in both manic and depressive episodes. The person may not differentiate between fantasy and reality. They may believe during a “high” that they are famous, or have high-ranking social connections, or that they have special powers. During a depressive episode, they may believe they have committed a crime or that they are ruined and penniless.
Symptoms of psychosis may include delusions, which are false but strongly felt beliefs, and hallucinations, involving hearing or seeing things that are not there.
Children and teenagers with bipolar disorder are more likely to have temper tantrums, rapid mood changes, outbursts of aggression, explosive anger, and reckless behavior.
These features must be episodic rather than chronic to receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
It is possible to manage all these symptoms with treatment.
Bipolar Disorder Types
The person may receive a diagnosis of one of three broad types of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar I Disorder
For a diagnosis of bipolar 1:
- There must have been at least one manic episode
- The person must also have had a previous major depressive episode
- The doctor must rule out disorders that are not associated with bipolar disorder, such as schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and other psychotic disorders.
Bipolar II Disorder
For a diagnosis of bipolar 2, the patient must have experienced one or more episodes of depression and at least one hypomanic episode.
A hypomanic state is less severe than a manic one.
Features of a hypomanic episode include sleeping less than normal and being competitive, outgoing, and full of energy.
However, the person is fully functioning, which may not be the case with manic episodes.
Bipolar II can also involve mixed episodes, and there may be symptoms of mood-congruent or mood-incongruent psychotic features.
A mood-congruent psychosis would involve features that match the mood. For example, if a person is experiencing depression, mood-congruent psychosis could have a theme of sadness.
Cyclothymia involves episodes of low-level depression that alternate with periods of hypomania.
This is classified separately from bipolar disorder because the mood changes are less dramatic.
A person who receives a diagnosis of bipolar disorder has a lifelong diagnosis. They may enter a period of stability, but they will always have the diagnosis.
What are the Causes of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder does not appear to have a single cause but is more likely to result from a range of factors that interact.
Some studies have suggested that there may be a genetic component to bipolar disorder. It is more likely to emerge in a person who has a family member with the condition.
Patients with bipolar disorder often show physical changes in their brains, but the link remains unclear.
Brain-chemical imbalances: Neurotransmitter imbalances appear to play a key role in many mood disorders, including bipolar disorder.
Hormonal problems: Hormonal imbalances might trigger or cause bipolar disorder.
Environmental factors: Abuse, mental stress, a “significant loss,” or some other traumatic event may contribute to or trigger bipolar disorder.
One possibility is that some people with a genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder may not have noticeable symptoms until an environmental factor triggers a severe mood swing.
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