We all experience ups and downs in our lives; many people’s moods will shift when significant life events happen or for other common reasons. Still, overall their moods will stay on the same level throughout their lives. They’ll be able to maintain emotional stability without much trouble.

It is not the case for more than 3.3 million (1.7%) American adults with bipolar disorder every year. According to a Harvard Medical School Study, an estimated 4.4% of U.S. adults experience bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder (manic depression) is a mental health condition known to cause extreme mood swings marked by emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression). Depression brings on sadness or hopelessness. Those suffering from depression lose interest in most activities that previously gave them pleasure. Then, the mood will shift into mania, and they feel full of energy, euphoric, and can even be irritable. The shift between these states (also known as mood swings) can affect behavior, the ability to think, judgment, sleep, energy, and even how one participates in activities. Mood swings can occur rarely or multiple times a year.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

The term bipolar is often used loosely in conversation. Bipolar disorder is often used to refer to a highly emotional person. People who have bipolar disorder, on the other hand, have long periods of mood and energy that go from being very high and irritable to being very low and hopeless. They also have periods during which their emotional state appears normal.

The bipolar disorder starts in adolescence or early adulthood and lasts for the rest of your life. Many sufferers are never diagnosed, or they are diagnosed later in life and suffer needlessly for years. Bipolar disorder is stressful and disruptive for those who have the disease and everyone in their lives, from family to friends and even employers.

Currently, there is no cure for the disease. Individuals with bipolar disorder can lead normal lives with treatment, however. A treatment plan that includes medication, therapy, a healthy lifestyle, and support allows bipolar sufferers to be in successful relationships and have productive, fulfilling lives.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder does not appear to have a specific genetic link. Researchers have discovered that a range of factors interacts to cause this disorder potentially. It also seems to run in families. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that may be causative:

  • Genetic factors – There may be a genetic component to bipolar disorder. It seems to be more prevalent when a family member has the condition.
  • Biological traits – Patients with bipolar disorder often show physical changes in their brains, but the exact link remains unclear.
  • Brain-chemical imbalances – Neurotransmitter imbalances play a crucial role in many mood disorders, including bipolar disorder.
  • Hormonal problems –  Hormonal imbalances may trigger or cause bipolar disorder.
  • Environmental factors – Abuse, mental stress, a “significant loss,” or other traumatic events can contribute to or trigger bipolar disorder.

What Are The Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is not easily recognized or diagnosed. One of the main issues in diagnosing bipolar disorder is that sufferers can be in denial of having any problem. When a person is in a manic phase or episode, they have high energy levels, which may feel good. The accompanying symptoms of unrealistic ideas and impulsive behavior are often reckless, which brings on the reason for concern. It can also mimic other illnesses or issues, like poor work or school performance and substance abuse.

Symptoms vary from person to person and depend on mood. Sometimes it is easy to see the mood swings; manic and depressive states can last for long periods. Sufferers may even have months of stable moods in between these episodes. Some people may spend years in a high or low mood on the other end of the spectrum. They can even be in what is known as a “mixed state” when the manic and depressive states coincide together. You may notice the person being negative but very energetic. When you see some of the behaviors listed below, it may be time to consider an evaluation.

Manic State — Symptoms may include:

  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Impaired judgment
  • Feeling “wired”
  • Being distracted or bored
  • Missing work or school, or underperforming
  • Thinking you can “do anything.”
  • Believing nothing is wrong.
  • Being extremely forthcoming
  • A feeling of being on top of the world, exhilarated, or euphoric
  • Excessive self-confidence (inflated sense of self-esteem or self-importance)
  • Excessive rapid talking (pressurized speech, jumping from one topic to another)
  • Rapid thoughts
  • Bizarre ideas (maybe acted upon)

Typical behaviors may include:

  • Squandering money.
  • Abusing illegal drugs/alcohol.
  • Taking part in dangerous activities.
  • Even a higher libido leads to promiscuity.

Depressive State — Symptoms may include:

  • Feelings of gloom, despair, or hopelessness
  • Extreme sadness
  • Insomnia, difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety about trivial things
  • Pain or physical issues (that do not respond to treatment)
  • Guilt
  • Feeling that everything that goes wrong is their fault
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • Inability to enjoy activities
  • Low attention span (difficulty remembering)
  • Easily irritated
  • Lack of desire to go to school or work

In severe cases, these individuals may consider ending their life, and they may take action on those thoughts.

Psychosis can occur in either the manic or the depressive state when the person cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy. Symptoms of psychosis may include delusions (false but strongly-felt beliefs) and hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not there). Children and teenagers with bipolar disorder tend to have temper tantrums, rapid mood shifts, aggressive outbursts, anger, and reckless behavior.

How Is Bipolar Disease Diagnosed?

Bipolar disorder diagnosis involves the expertise of a psychiatrist or psychologist, who bases the diagnosis on criteria set out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition (DSM-5). Other healthcare professionals may have observed signs of the condition. Still, the diagnosis must happen by a licensed mental health professional. The doctor may carry out a physical examination and diagnostic tests, including blood and urine tests. The patient must meet specific criteria for both mania and depression, including an elevated or irritable mood and “persistently increased activity or energy levels.” These must-haves lasted at least 7 days or less if symptoms were severe enough to need hospitalization. Supporting information from family members, colleagues, teachers, and friends can help confirm the diagnosis.

There are 3 broad types of bipolar disorder. Each person diagnosed is placed in one of the following categories.

Bipolar I Disorder: Being diagnosed in this category means at least one manic episode, and the person has had a prior major depressive episode. The doctor has also ruled out schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and other psychotic disorders.

Bipolar II Disorder: Patients have experienced depressive episodes and at least one hypomanic episode (the hypomanic state is less severe than the manic one). They may have experienced a mixed state where they felt depressed and restless. The hypomanic state includes sleeping less than expected and being competitive, outgoing, and energetic. The person is fully functioning, which is not the case with full manic episodes.

Cyclothymia: This diagnosis involves episodes of low-level depression that alternate with periods of hypomania. The DSM-V classifies it separately from bipolar disorder because the mood changes are less dramatic.

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder is a lifelong disorder. The person may enter a period of stability or remission, but they will always have this diagnosis.

What Are The Treatment Options For Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder requires managing manic symptoms (impulsive behavior, excessive irritability, and anxiety) and depressive symptoms (low mood, poor appetite, and emotional indifference). A combination of medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, and support from family, friends, and peers may help individuals with bipolar disorder stabilize their moods and live productive lives. 

Unfortunately, there isn’t many complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) options available for bipolar patients. A few non-prescription supplements may help alleviate depression, which many bipolar patients spend a reasonable amount of time. The critical thing to remember is that just because CAM therapies exist doesn’t mean that someone with bipolar disorder should stop taking their antidepressants. These alternative therapies are meant to be supportive and help people diagnosed with bipolar disorder lead fuller lives.

  • Medication: Common medications used are lithium, anticonvulsants, and mood stabilizers. Alternative medications used include antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers. The right medication regimen takes time to figure out. Hence, patience and regular follow-up with therapists are necessary for this process.
  • Therapy: Group and individual therapy are supportive in bipolar disorder. Depending on the symptoms, therapies tried are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and family-focused therapies.
  • Lifestyle changes: Healthy lifestyle changes are an essential part of recovery. Regular sleep schedules, elimination of alcohol, caffeine, and similar substances, regular exercise, meditation, mind-body practices, and spirituality are considered.
  • Support: Support groups can be very effective for learning coping skills, feeling accepted, and avoiding social isolation.

The goal of treatment is to minimize the length and frequency of manic and depressive episodes. Therapy teams work with patients to decrease the severity of symptoms, providing them with tools to have a productive life. It is essential to seek treatment for this disorder as episodes of mania or depression can last for up to a year. When patients seek treatment options, they can see improvement in as little as 4 months.

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