What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic-depression, is a mental illness characterized by periods of extreme moods that swing between two opposite poles:

  • Mania, which is characterized by exaggerated euphoria, irritability, or both.
  • Depression, which is characterized by overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of pleasure.
  • It usually develops in a person’s mid-teens or early adult years but can affect people of all ages. With proper treatment, many patients are able to control their mood swings. Untreated bipolar disorder can lead to many serious problems, including substance abuse, financial crises, interpersonal difficulties, and increased risk of suicide.

Types of bipolar disorder

The American Psychiatric Association classifies bipolar disorder according to the pattern and severity of the symptoms. The main types of bipolar disorder are:

  • Bipolar disorder I. Bipolar disorder I is marked by manic episodes that are preceded or followed by hypomania or depressive episodes. (Hypomania is mild mania; the euphoric symptoms are less severe and do not last as long.) Mania is defined as a period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood accompanied by increased goal-directed activity or energy. These changes in mood and energy last at least 1 week and are present most of the day, nearly every day. Mania can have significant negative effects (such as sexual recklessness, excessive and impulsive shopping, and sudden traveling) on a patient’s social life, performance at work, or both. Untreated mania lasts at least a week, and can last for several months. Depressive episodes tend to last 6 to 12 months, if left untreated.
  • Bipolar disorder II. Bipolar disorder II is characterized by episodes of predominantly major depressive symptoms, with occasional episodes of hypomania, which last for at least 4 days. Patients with bipolar disorder II do not experience pure manic episodes but have significantly more depressive episodes, and shorter periods of being well between episodes than patients with bipolar disorder I. Bipolar II disorder is highly associated with increased risk for suicide.
  • Cyclothymic disorder. Cyclothymic disorder is not as severe as either bipolar disorder II or I but the condition is more chronic. Hypomanic symptoms tend toward irritability as compared to the more euphoric symptoms of bipolar II. The disorder lasts at least 2 years, with single episodes persisting for more than 2 months. Cyclothymic disorder may be a precursor to full-blown bipolar disorder or it may continue as a low-grade chronic condition.
  • Other specified bipolar disorder and related disorders. Bipolar disorder that does not meet the full criteria for one of the above categories is grouped into this category. Examples include people who have experienced major depressive episodes alternating with short hypomanic episodes that lasted only a few days.

Bipolar Disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that is characterized by shifts in mood, activity levels and energy. These shifts are unusual and may be drastic. It’s important to differentiate bipolar disorder from the normal ups and downs associated with stress and change in life as these can be attributed to external circumstances, whereas bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain. In fact, research suggests that this chemical imbalance can run in families and may be inherited in some cases.

Someone who suffers from bipolar disorder may exhibit any of the following behaviors while in a manic state: irritability, intense happiness or a “high,” talking a lot or talking very quickly, a lack of need for sleep, extreme shopping or other extreme behaviors, restlessness, impulsive or high-risk behavior, or delusions of grandeur (“I’m king or queen of the world”). Conversely, when patients are in a depressed state, they may be extremely sad or hopeless, sleep a lot, lose interest in things they used to enjoy (whether people or activities), have difficulty focusing on tasks, shift their eating habits, avoid social situations. and in extreme cases, contemplate or plan out a suicide attempt. Because the condition can be so extreme and life altering, it is important to seek the help of a medical professional in order to properly diagnose and treat bipolar disorder.

Once diagnosed, treatment often includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The following types of medications maybe used to treat bipolar disorder but nothing can actually cure the disorder: mood stabilizers or anticonvulsants (Lithium, Depakote®, Lamictal®, Trileptal®), atypical antipsychotics (Zyprexa®, Abilify®, Seroquel®, Risperdal®, Geodon®) and antidepressants (Prozac®, Paxil®, Zoloft®). Depending on the patient’s specific diagnosis, different medications or combinations of medications may be prescribed.

Whether you have already been diagnosed or you are researching in order to learn more, WebPsychology provides resources to help you learn more about the disorder, its causes, symptoms and treatments.

The above summary by WebPsychology.

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