Bipolar Disorder: An Overview

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For most of us mood changes are a natural part of life...we get some good news and we feel great...we get a flat tire driving home from work and all of a sudden we feel not so great...whatever the case may be mood changes are not something that directly shape our lives...they come and go without any real impact...however for some of us mood changes can be a major life altering force...for some of us mood changes can be the result of a chronic illness known as bipolar disorder.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic-depressive illness, is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood and energy which directly affect the ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

Is bipolar disorder a result of a personal character flaw or weakness?

No, bipolar disorder is a chronic illness much like diabetes...only instead of affecting the body it affects the mind.

What causes bipolar disorder?

Researchers believe bipolar disorder may be a result of anything from genetics to hormonal imbalances to environmental stressors.

What are bipolar disorder symptoms?

Individuals suffering from bipolar disorder typically experience intense emotional states that occur in two distinct periods called "mood episodes."

What are the two distinct mood episodes called?

The two distinct mood episodes are called: the manic episode and the depressive episode.

What are the symptoms of the manic episode of bipolar disorder?

Manic episode symptoms include: a period of feeling euphoric, inflated self-esteem, poor judgment, rapid speech, racing thoughts, decreased need for sleep, increased sex drive, agitation and restlessness.

What are the symptoms of the depressive episode of bipolar disorder?

Depressive episode symptoms include: a period of feeling worried or empty, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, hopelessness, fatigue, appetite changes, sleep disturbances, irritability, trouble concentrating, and reoccurring thoughts of death.

What causes shifts between mood episodes?

Situations or events known as triggers typically provoke shifts in mood episodes. Triggers differ from person to person and could be anything from a stressful event to seasonal changes.

If individuals are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms should they contact their health care provider?

Yes, bipolar disorder is a serious illness that could result in individuals hurting themselves.

How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

Bipolar disorder is diagnosed by health care providers using criteria established in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

If individuals are diagnosed with bipolar disorder should they be encouraged to seek treatment?

Yes, untreated bipolar disorder can lead to: work/school problems, relationship difficulties, social isolation, substance abuse and even death.

How is bipolar disorder treated?

Health care providers may treat an individual suffering from bipolar disorder with one or more of the following:

Psychotherapy - Psychotherapy is a form of counseling where individuals discuss their condition with health care providers specializing in mental illness.

Cognitive behavioral therapy - Cognitive behavioral therapy is a specific form of psychotherapy where individuals learn how to replace negative thoughts and behaviors with positive ones.

Group therapy - Group therapy provides a forum for individuals suffering from bipolar disorder to discuss their situation with other individuals in similar situations.

Medications - Health care providers may use anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, antidepressants and benzodiazepines to treat individuals suffering from bipolar disorder.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) - ECT is a procedure where electrical currents are passed through the brain. ECT works by altering patients' brain chemistry in a way which treats bipolar disorder. ECT is typically reserved for individuals who don't respond to other treatment options.

About the Author

Marc Macera, PharmD, RPh's picture


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