What is bipolar disorder?


Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes intense mood swings-- often called episodes-- that can range from mania to depression. These episodes should not be confused with the normal ups and downs that most people experience, as they can have serious consequences and the condition can worsen if left untreated.

Episodes of mania and depression can be either severe or mild. During mania, people can feel extremely excited or happy; they may be more energetic, productive, and impulsive with their actions and behaviors. In contrast, episodes of depression can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or loneliness. Rather than feeling upbeat and energetic, people experiencing a depressive episode can feel tired or sluggish, and can have trouble starting or completing tasks. Some also experience mixed episodes, which are a combination of manic and depressive symptoms.

Those who suffer from bipolar disorder do not only experience mania or depression. They can experience periods of a balanced, stable mood state. Manic and depressive episodes also do not always occur equally; Some people may experience depression more often than mania, and vice versa. Additionally, these mood shifts can occur frequently or infrequently, sometimes happening as often as a few times a week to as little as a few times a year.

Approximately 5.7 million adults in the U.S. are affected by bipolar disorder. It can be very debilitating, and difficult to handle. Fortunately, bipolar disorder is highly treatable with the right methods as determined by a health care professional.

What are signs/symptoms of bipolar disorder?

The National Institute of Mental Health lists the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder as:

  • Manic episodes
    • Mood Changes
      • A long period of feeling "high," or an overly happy or outgoing mood
    • Extreme irritability
  • Behavioral Changes
    • Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
    • Being easily distracted
    • Increasing activities, such as taking on new projects
    • Being overly restless
    • Sleeping little or not being tired
    • Having an unrealistic belief in one's abilities
    • Behaving impulsively and engaging in pleasurable, high-risk behaviors
  • Depressive episodes
    • Mood Changes
      • An overly long period of feeling sad or hopeless
    • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex.
    • Behavioral Changes
      • Feeling tired or "slowed down"
      • Having problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
      • Being restless or irritable
      • Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
      • Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide.

What are the risk factors for bipolar disorder?

  • Having a family history of bipolar disorder
  • Excessive stress
  • Excessive drug or alcohol use
  • Major life changes or traumatic events
  • Co-morbidity
    • Bipolar disorder can occur together with other disorders or illnesses
    • Anxiety disorders
    • ADHD/ADD
    • Substance abuse or addiction

What are treatment options for bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder requires long-term attention and treatment, even when people feel fine. A combination of support, medication, therapy, stress-reducing activities, and lifestyle changes are effective in reducing the symptoms of bipolar disorder. It is important to stay consistent with treatment, as there is a risk of relapse or worsening symptoms without it.

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