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Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic-depressive disorder is associated with mood swings that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania. When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When your mood shifts in the other direction, you may feel euphoric and full of energy. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year, or as often as several times a day. In some cases, bipolar disorder causes symptoms of depression and mania at the same time.

Although bipolar disorder is a disruptive, long-term condition, you can keep your moods in check by following a treatment plan. In most cases, bipolar disorder can be controlled with medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy)

Symptoms

The exact symptoms of bipolar disorder vary from person to person. For some people, depression causes the most problems; for other people, manic symptoms are the main concern. Symptoms of depression and symptoms of mania or hypomania may also occur together. This is known as a mixed episode.

Manic phase of bipolar disorder

Signs and Symptoms of the manic or hypomanic phase of bipolar disorder can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Poor judgment
  • Rapid speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation or irritation
  • Increased physical activity
  • Risky behavior
  • Spending sprees or unwise financial choices
  • Increased drive to perform or achieve goals
  • Increased sex drive
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Easily distracted
  • Careless or dangerous use of drugs or alcohol
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Delusions or a break from reality (psychosis)
  • Poor performance at work or school

Depressive phase of bipolar disorder

Signs and symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder can include:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Sleep problems
  • Low appetite or increase appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of interest in activities once considered enjoyable
  • Problems concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Chronic pain without a known cause
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Poor performances at work or school

Symptoms in Children or Adolescents

Instead of clear-cut depression and mania or hypomania, the most prominent signs of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents can include explosive temper, rapid mood shifts, reckless behavior and aggression. In some cases, these shifts occur within hour or less, for example, a child may have intense periods of crying and outbursts of explosive anger all in one day.

  • Biological differences. People with bipolar disorder appear to have physical changes in their brains.  The significance of these changes is still uncertain but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
  • Neurotransmitters. An imbalance in naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters seems to play a significant role in bipolar disorder and other mood disorders.
  • Hormones. Imbalanced hormones may be involved in causing or triggering bipolar disorder.
  • Inherited traits. Bipolar disorder is more common in people who have a blood relative (such as a sibling or parent) with the condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing bipolar disorder.
  • Environment. Stress, abuse, significant loss or other traumatic experiences may play a role in bipolar disorder.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder include:

  • Having a blood relative such as a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder
  • Periods of high stress
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Major life changes, such as the death of a loved one
  • Being in your early 20’s

(Adapted from the Mayo Clinic; www.mayoclinic.com)