Bipolar disorder

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Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a serious medical illness that causes shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe.

What causes Bipolar Disorder?

The causes of bipolar disorder aren't always clear. It runs in families. Abnormal brain structure and function may also play a role. Bipolar disorder often starts in a person's late teen or early adult years. But children and adults can have bipolar disorder too. The illness usually lasts a lifetime.

What are the signs and symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings from overly "high" and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression.


Who develops bipolar disorder?

Anyone can develop bipolar disorder. It often starts in a person’s late teen or early adult years. But children and older adults can have bipolar disorder too. The illness usually lasts a lifetime.

Why does someone develop bipolar disorder?

Doctors do not know what causes bipolar disorder, but several things may contribute to the illness. Family genes may be one factor because bipolar disorder sometimes runs in families. However, it is important to know that just because someone in your family has bipolar disorder, it does not mean other members of the family will have it as well. Another factor that may lead to bipolar disorder is the brain structure or the brain function of the person with the disorder. Scientists are finding out more about the disorder by studying it. This research may help doctors do a better job of treating people. Also, this research may help doctors to predict whether a person will get bipolar disorder. One day, doctors may be able to prevent the illness in some people.

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Bipolar “mood episodes” include unusual mood changes along with unusual sleep habits, activity levels, thoughts, or behavior. People may have manic episodes, depressive episodes, or “mixed” episodes. A mixed episode has both manic and depressive symptoms. These mood episodes cause symptoms that last a week or two or sometimes longer. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day.

Mood episodes are intense. The feelings are strong and happen along with extreme changes in behavior and energy levels.

People having a manic episode may:

  • Feel very “up” or “high”
  • Feel “jumpy” or “wired”
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Become more active than usual
  • Talk really fast about a lot of different things
  • Be agitated, irritable, or “touchy”
  • Feel like their thoughts are going very fast
  • Think they can do a lot of things at once
  • Do risky things, like spend a lot of money or have reckless sex

People having a depressive episode may:

  • Feel very “down” or sad
  • Sleep too much or too little
  • Feel like they can’t enjoy anything
  • Feel worried and empty
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Forget things a lot
  • Eat too much or too little
  • Feel tired or “slowed down”
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Think about death or suicide

Can someone have bipolar disorder along with other problems?

Yes. Sometimes people having very strong mood episodes may have psychotic symptoms. Psychosis affects thoughts and emotions as well as a person’s ability to know what is real and what is not. People with mania and psychotic symptoms may believe they are rich and famous, or have special powers. People with depression and psychotic symptoms may believe they have committed a crime, they have lost all of their money, or that their lives are ruined in some other way.

Sometimes behavior problems go along with mood episodes. A person may drink too much or take drugs. Some people take a lot of risks, like spending too much money or having reckless sex. These problems can damage lives and hurt relationships. Some people with bipolar disorder have trouble keeping a job or doing well in school.

Is bipolar disorder easy to diagnose?

No. Some people have bipolar disorder for years before the illness is diagnosed. This is because bipolar symptoms may seem like several different problems. Family and friends may notice the symptoms but not realize they are part of a bigger problem. A doctor may think the person has a different illness, like schizophrenia or depression.

People with bipolar disorder often have other health problems as well. This may make it hard for doctors to recognize the bipolar disorder. Examples of other illnesses include substance abuse, anxiety disorders, thyroid disease, heart disease, and obesity.

How is bipolar disorder treated?

Right now, there is no cure for bipolar disorder, but treatment can help control symptoms. Most people can get help for mood changes and behavior problems. Steady, dependable treatment works better than treatment that starts and stops. Treatment options include:

1. Medication. There are several types of medication that can help. People respond to medications in different ways, so the type of medication depends on the patient. Sometimes a person needs to try different medications to see which works best.

Medications can cause side effects. Patients should always tell their doctors about these problems.Also, patients should not stop taking a medication without a doctor’s help. Stopping medication suddenly can be dangerous, and it can make bipolar symptoms worse.

2. Therapy. Different kinds of psychotherapy, or “talk” therapy, can help people with bipolar disorder. Therapy can help them change their behavior and manage their lives. It can also help patients get along better with family and friends. Sometimes therapy includes family members.

3. Other treatments. Some people do not get better with medication and therapy. These people may try electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT. This is sometimes called “shock” therapy. ECT provides a quick electric current that can sometimes correct problems in the brain.

Sometimes people take herbal and natural supplements, such as St. John’s wort or omega-3 fatty acids. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplement. Scientists aren’t sure how these products affect people with bipolar disorder. Some people may also need sleep medications during treatment.




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