Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

Diagnosis

Doctors diagnose bipolar disorder using guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the symptoms must be a major change from your normal mood or behavior. There are four basic types of bipolar disorder:

  1. Bipolar I Disorderdefined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks.
  2. Bipolar II Disorderdefined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes.
  3. Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS)diagnosed when symptoms of the illness exist but do not meet diagnostic criteria for either bipolar I or II. However, the symptoms are clearly out of the person’s normal range of behavior.
  4. Cyclothymic Disorder, or Cyclothymiaa mild form of bipolar disorder. People with cyclothymia have episodes of hypomania as well as mild depression for at least 2 years. However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for any other type of bipolar disorder.

A severe form of the disorder is called Rapid-cycling Bipolar Disorder. Rapid cycling occurs when a person has four or more episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states, all within a year. Rapid cycling seems to be more common in people who have their first bipolar episode at a younger age. One study found that people with rapid cycling had their first episode about 4 years earlier—during the mid to late teen years—than people without rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Rapid cycling affects more women than men. Rapid cycling can come and go.

When getting a diagnosis, a doctor or health care provider should conduct a physical examination, an interview, and lab tests.

Signs and Symptoms

People with bipolar disorder experience unusually intense emotional states that occur in distinct periods called “mood episodes.” Each mood episode represents a drastic change from a person’s usual mood and behavior. An overly joyful or overexcited state is called a manic episode, and an extremely sad or hopeless state is called a depressive episode. Sometimes, a mood episode includes symptoms of both mania and depression. This is called a mixed state. People with bipolar disorder also may be explosive and irritable during a mood episode.

Extreme changes in energy, activity, sleep, and behavior go along with these changes in mood. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are described below.

Symptoms of mania or a manic episode include:

Symptoms of depression or a depressive episode include:

 Mood Changes

  • A long period of feeling “high,” or an overly happy or outgoing mood
  • Extreme irritability

 Behavioral Changes

  • Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
  • Being easily distracted
  • Increasing activities, such as taking on new projects
  • Being overly restless
  • Sleeping little or not being tired
  • Having an unrealistic belief in one’s abilities
  • Behaving impulsively and engaging in pleasurable, high-risk behaviors
 Mood Changes

  •  An overly long period of feeling sad or hopeless
  •  Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex.

 Behavioral Changes

  •  Feeling tired or “slowed down”
  •  Having problems concentrating, remembering,   and making decisions
  •  Being restless or irritable
  •  Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
  •  Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting   suicide.

Bipolar disorder can be present even when mood swings are less extreme. Without proper treatment, people with hypomania may develop severe mania or depression.

Sometimes, a person with severe episodes of mania or depression has psychotic symptoms too, such as hallucinations or delusions. The psychotic symptoms tend to reflect the person’s extreme mood. For example, if you are having psychotic symptoms during a manic episode, you may believe you are a famous person, have a lot of money, or have special powers. If you are having psychotic symptoms during a depressive episode, you may believe you are ruined and penniless, or you have committed a crime. As a result, people with bipolar disorder who have psychotic symptoms are sometimes misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.

People with bipolar disorder may also abuse alcohol or substances, have relationship problems, or perform poorly in school or at work. It may be difficult to recognize these problems as signs of a major mental illness.

Bipolar disorder usually lasts a lifetime. Episodes of mania and depression typically come back over time. Between episodes, many people with bipolar disorder are free of symptoms, but some people may have lingering symptoms.