What Is Bipolar Disorder?

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a brain disorder that causes sudden, extreme fluctuations in mood, energy, and activity levels. People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually high energy and euphoria, called mania, followed by periods of extremely low mood, called depression.

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that can impact your ability to function in day-to-day life. It’s estimated that approximately 2.6 percent of American adults, or about 5.7 million people, have bipolar disorder in any given year.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three main types of bipolar disorder:

Bipolar I Disorder

This is by far the most severe form of bipolar depression and is characterized by manic episodes that last at least seven days or manic symptoms that are so severe that hospitalization is necessary. Depressive episodes may also occur, typically lasting at least two weeks.

Bipolar II Disorder

This form of bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of severe depression alternating with periods of hypomania, a less severe form of mania.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia, is a milder form of bipolar disorder that is characterized by periods of hypomania alternating with periods of mild depression. People with cyclothymia may not have the severe symptoms associated with the other forms of bipolar disorder, but the constant mood swings can still be disruptive.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not fully understood, but researchers have identified certain risk factors that may contribute to the development of the condition. These include:

Genetic factors: According to studies, bipolar disorder tends to run in families, which suggests specific genes and gene variations make some people more susceptible to developing bipolar disorder. Research shows heredity accounts for 60 to 80 percent of vulnerability to bipolar disorder.

Brain structure and function: Abnormalities in brain structure and function may also be an underlying factor in the development of bipolar disorder. Brain imaging studies show that people with bipolar disorder have subtle but functionally significant differences in size, structure, and function compared to healthy individuals. Chemical imbalance in the brain and physical trauma may also impact brain function and contribute to the development of bipolar disorder.

Environmental factors: Sudden, stressful life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, or job loss can trigger the onset of bipolar disorder in people who are already at risk of developing the condition.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar symptoms can vary dramatically between mania and depression episodes. If you suspect you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, it’s important to know what signs to look for.

Symptoms of Mania:

  • Elevated mood, or feeling euphoric
  • Extreme irritability
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Increased energy and activity levels
  • Racing thoughts and rapid speech
  • Impulsiveness and poor judgment
  • Changes in appetite
  • Delusions of grandeur
  • In severe cases, hallucinations or psychotic symptoms may occur

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Persistent sad, empty, or anxious mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Drastic increase or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
  • Decreased energy levels and fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Angry outbursts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Increased alcohol and substance abuse
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

How is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

Bipolar disorder is a long-term condition that requires ongoing treatment. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but the symptoms can be managed using a combination of medication, behavioral therapy, and self-care. Medications commonly prescribed for bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants.

The Takeaway

Bipolar disorder can be debilitating or even life-threatening if left untreated. But with proper treatment and self-care, you can lead a happy and productive life. If you have the above symptoms, reach out to a professional for diagnosis and treatment.

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