BIPOLAR DISORDER

An Overview

Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

There are three types of bipolar disorder. All three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very “down,” sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

TYPES OF BIPOLAR

DISORDERS:

  • Bipolar I Disorder

  • Bipolar II Disorder

  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called Cyclothymia)

  • Bipolar I Disorder— defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 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. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depressive symptoms and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.

  • Bipolar II Disorder— defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder.

  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called Cyclothymia)— defined by periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.

Sometimes a person might experience symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not match the three categories listed above, which is referred to as “other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders.”

Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed during late adolescence (teen years) or early adulthood. Occasionally, bipolar symptoms can appear in children. Bipolar disorder can also first appear during a woman’s pregnancy or following childbirth. Although the symptoms may vary over time, bipolar disorder usually requires lifelong treatment. Following a prescribed treatment plan can help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Signs & Symptoms

People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and uncharacteristic behaviors—often without recognizing their likely harmful or undesirable effects. These distinct periods are called “mood episodes.” Mood episodes are very different from the moods and behaviors that are typical for the person. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day. Episodes may also last for longer periods, such as several days or weeks.

Sometimes people experience both manic and depressive symptoms in the same episode. This kind of episode is called an episode with mixed features. People experiencing an episode with mixed features may feel very sad, empty, or hopeless, while, at the same, time feeling extremely energized.

A person may have bipolar disorder even if their symptoms are less extreme. For example, some people with bipolar disorder (Bipolar II) experience hypomania, a less severe form of mania. During a hypomanic episode, a person may feel very good, be able to get things done, and keep up with day-to-day life. The person may not feel that anything is wrong, but family and friends may recognize the changes in mood or activity levels as possible bipolar disorder. Without proper treatment, people with hypomania can develop severe mania or depression.

Risk Factors

Researchers are studying the possible causes of bipolar disorder. Most agree that there is no single cause and it is likely that many factors contribute to a person’s chance of having the illness.

Brain Structure and Functioning: Some studies indicate that the brains of people with bipolar disorder may differ from the brains of people who do not have bipolar disorder or any other mental disorder. Learning more about these differences may help scientists understand bipolar disorder and determine which treatments will work best. At this time, health care providers base the diagnosis and treatment plan on a person’s symptoms and history, rather than brain imaging or other diagnostic tests.

Genetics: Some research suggests that people with certain genes are more likely to develop bipolar disorder. Research also shows that people who have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder have an increased chance of having the disorder themselves. Many genes are involved, and no one gene can cause the disorder. Learning more about how genes play a role in bipolar disorder may help researchers develop new treatments.

Disclaimer: The information on this page is for educational purposes and should not be used to diagnose yourself or someone else. If you or someone you know is showing signs or symptoms which are causing disruption in their lives, please contact a mental health professional.