what is bipolar disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder causes exaggerated shifts in a person’s ability to think clearly, mood, and energy. It is, basically, a mental illness. Most people experience ups and downs in their moods. However, those with bipolar disorder are subject to extreme highs and lows in their mood, known as mania and depression respectively.

what is bipolar disorder

Bipolar Disorder can occur in your childhood or your teens. The most common age-of-onset is 25. It affects men and women equally. 2.6% of the US population has been diagnosed with the condition, out of which 83% of the cases are classified as severe. The disorder worsens if left untreated. An individual suffering from bipolar disorder can live a healthy life with the help of a good treatment plan that includes psychotherapy, medications, a healthy lifestyle, early identification of symptoms, and a regular schedule.


Common symptoms of Bipolar Disorder


The symptoms and associated severity can vary for a person with bipolar. He/she may exhibit distinct manic or depressed states. At the same time, they may have extended periods without the manifestation of any symptoms. Both the mood extremes can be experienced simultaneously or in quick succession. When episodes of bipolar mania and depression become severe, it may include psychotic symptoms like hallucinations and delusions. They usually mirror a person’s extremity of mood. Bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms can be wrongly diagnosed as schizophrenia.


Mania is a part of having Bipolar Disorder


A person diagnosed with bipolar disorder ought to have experienced at least a single episode of mania or hypomania. Hypomania is mania of a milder form that does not include psychotic episodes. Hypomanic individuals can often perform well in social situations and at work. While there are people with bipolar disorder who have episodes of mania or hypomania multiple times in their life, others are only subject to them rarely.


A person with bipolar may find an elevated mood of mania appealing, specifically so if it occurs after depression; this “high” does not end at a comfortable or controllable level. Their mood can rapidly turn irritable, behavior change to unpredictable, and judgment more and more impaired. Periods of mania make people behave impulsively, take reckless decisions, and indulge in unusual risks.


People in manic states are usually unaware of the negative impact of their actions. Suicide is an imminent danger as bipolar patients can become suicidal even in their manic states. If one can learn from prior episodes what sort of behavior signals “red flags” of manic behavior, he/she can help manage their symptoms better.


Bipolar Depression


Bipolar depression causes such lows that a person may find themselves unable to even get out of bed. People experiencing a depressive episode either have difficulty in falling/staying asleep or tend to sleep more than usual. Minor decisions such as what to eat for dinner or what to wear to the office can be difficult to make for those suffering from depression. Obsessing over feelings of loss, personal failure, guilt or helplessness can lead to suicidal thinking.


These depressive symptoms need to be present in an individual on an everyday basis for at least two weeks for a diagnosis to be made. Depression that is part of bipolar disorder can be a challenge to treat and more often than not requires a customized treatment plan.


What Causes Bipolar Disorder?


Scientists believe several factors can contribute to bipolar disorder. Some of these are:


  • Genetics – Your chances of developing bipolar disorder increase if your parents or sibling suffers from it. However, the role of genetics may not be absolute. Children who have a family history of bipolar disorder may never develop the condition. Similarly, if an identical twin develops the disorder, it does not necessarily mean that the other will too.
  • Stress – A manic or depressive episode can be triggered by stressful events such as a death in the family, financial problems, illness, divorce or a difficult relationship. The development of the disease is also a function of how well an individual handles stress.
  • Brain structure and function – Researchers have identified minimal differences in the average size or activation of some brain structures in people suffering from bipolar.


Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder


A doctor can choose to perform a physical examination, conduct an interview or order lab tests in order to diagnose bipolar disorder. It is true that the disorder cannot be surmised from a blood test or body scan, but what they can achieve is ruling out other illnesses that resemble the condition such as hyperthyroidism. If the doctor finds evidence of no other illnesses or medicines causing the symptoms, he/she may recommend mental health care. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM) is used to diagnose the “type” of bipolar disorder a person might be having. The patterns of symptoms and the level of impairment a person shows during their most severe episodes are assessed to determine the kind of bipolar disorder a person has.


Types Bipolar Disorders


Bipolar I Disorder – People suffering from this type of bipolar disorder experience episodes of both mania and depression. The person’s manic episode should last at least seven days or be so severe that it requires hospitalization.


Bipolar II Disorder – People do not experience a “full” manic episode in this type. Depressive episodes, shifting back and forth with hypomanic episodes, are more commonly experienced.


Cyclothymia – People who have chronically unstable mood state where they experience hypomania and mild depression for at least two years with only brief periods of normal mood. The period of normalcy in mood lasts less than eight weeks.


Bipolar Disorder, “other specified” and “unspecified” – A person can be said to be suffering from this when they do not meet the criteria for any of the above sub-types but still experience periods of clinically significant mood elevation that isn’t normal.


Treatment for Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder can be managed in several ways:


  • CBT and family-focused therapy
  • Mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications or antidepressants
  • Recognizing an episode’s early symptoms
  • Aerobic exercise and meditation


Patients with bipolar disorder can also experience anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and substance abuse disorders. These co-morbid conditions can make it difficult to treat bipolar disorder. It is important to get a treatment plan tailored to meet your specific needs.

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