Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Learn About Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder, is a serious mental health condition that is characterized by extreme changes in mood that range from deep depression to mania. While in a depressive cycle, an individual will experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Additionally, they may become more socially isolated as they become uninterested in activities they used to enjoy. As their mood cycles switch to a manic state, this same individual may experience euphoria and be full of energy, often engaging in risky behaviors. These shifts in mood can occur several times a day or may only occur a few times throughout a year. Mixed bipolar episodes occur when the symptoms of depression and mania occur simultaneously and can be very dangerous as the feelings of hopelessness mixed with extreme energy may lead to incredibly self-destructive acts. There are several different subtypes of bipolar disorder each one containing a different pattern of symptoms. Types of bipolar disorder include:
Bipolar I disorder: The mood swings associated with bipolar I disorder involve highly disorganized, full-blown manic symptoms, which involve erratic behaviors that can negatively impact daily life. On the other side of this form of bipolar, symptoms of depression can be severe enough that some people may contemplate ending their own life.
Bipolar II disorder: A more mild form of bipolar disorder. While people who have bipolar II experience milder manic and depressive cycles, these symptoms are still severe enough to cause significant impairment in activities of daily living.
Cyclothymia or cyclothymic disorder: An even milder form of bipolar disorder. The cycles of mania and depression are disruptive to daily living, however these cycles are not as severe in bipolar I and bipolar II disorder.
Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder: A severe form of bipolar disorder, which is diagnosed when a person experiences four or more episodes of depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states within one year.
While bipolar disorder is a life-long condition, with proper treatment and medication management an individual can keep their moods stabilized allowing them to lead a full life.
Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adults (or 2.6% of the population) in the United States each year. While bipolar disorder affects men and women equally, about three times as many women experience rapid cycling bipolar disorder. The median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years of age, however the illness can develop in childhood or as late as in the 40s or 50s.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, but research has identified several factors that seem to be involved in both the development and trigger of bipolar episodes. It is generally accepted that bipolar disorder is the result of genetic, physical, environmental, and risk factors working together. The most common causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder include:
Genetic: Bipolar disorder tends to have an inherited component and is more common in people who have a blood relative with the disorder. Researchers are still trying to identify specific genes that may be involved in the development of this disorder.
Physical: Neuroimaging studies have shown changes in the structure and function of the brain of those who have bipolar disorder. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is used for problem solving and making decisions, has been noted to be smaller and function less well than in those who do not have a similar history. Additionally, an imbalance in naturally-occurring neurotransmitters can play a large role in developing bipolar disorder.
Environmental: It’s thought that many people who develop bipolar disorder are reacting to stress-related events and traumas that they have experienced throughout their lives.
- Substance use and abuse
- Major life changes
- Childhood trauma, abuse, neglect
- Being in your 20s
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The symptoms of bipolar disorder display differently from person to person and will depend upon the specific subtype an individual is diagnosed with. Some individuals are more affected by the depressive symptoms, while others may be more impacted by the symptoms of mania. In some instances individuals will experience mixed episodes and are affected by both depression and mania. Some of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder include:
Manic (or hypomanic) Symptoms:
- Poor judgment
- Risky behaviors
- Agitation or irritation
- Increased physical activity
- Easily distracted
- Spending sprees or other bad financial choices
- Inflated self-esteem and sense of self
- Aggressive behavior
- Racing thoughts
- Decreased need for sleep
- Frequent absences from work or school
- Sleep problems
- Loss of interest in activities once-enjoyed
- Problems concentrating
- Chronic pain without known cause
- Low or increased appetite
- Problems concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Effects of Bipolar Disorder
If left untreated or is not properly diagnosed the symptoms of bipolar disorder will only get worse and will do more extensive damage to an individual’s life. The effects of bipolar disorder can include:
- Social isolation
- Poor performance in school or at work
- Loss of job or expulsion from school
- Abuse and eventually addiction to drugs or alcohol
- Legal problems and/or incarceration
- Damaged interpersonal relationships
- Suicidal ideation
Bipolar Disorder and Co-Occurring Disorders
People who have bipolar disorder can also struggle with other types of mental health disorders. The most common co-occurring disorders for bipolar disorder include:
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Conduct disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Disruptive behavior disorders
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity-disorder
- Anxiety disorders