Bipolar disorder is a condition that features extreme shifts in mood and fluctuations in energy and activity levels that can make day-to-day living difficult.?

Previously known as manic depression, it is a serious mental illness that, if left untreated, can destroy relationships, undermine career prospects, and seriously affect academic performance. In some cases, it can lead to suicide. Diagnosis most commonly occurs between the ages of 15 and 25 years, but it can happen at any age. It affects males and females equally.

 

Facts on bipolar disorder

Here are some key points about bipolar disorder. More detail is in the main article.

  • Bipolar disorder is a serious condition that involves severe abnormalities in mood.
  • The person experiences alternating bouts of mania or hypomania and depression, which may involve psychosis.
  • Episodes may last several weeks or months, with periods of stability in between.
  • It can be managed with medication, but it may take some time to find the right dose and combination.

What is bipolar disorder?

The main symptoms of bipolar disorder are alternating episodes of extreme euphoria, or mania, and major depression. The fluctuations can be severe, but moods may be normal between the peaks and troughs. The mood shifts involved in bipolar disorder are far more severe, debilitating, and incapacitating than those experienced by most people.

Hallucinations and other symptoms may occur in some people. With treatment, many people with the condition can work, study, and live a full and productive life. However, some people stop taking their medication or choose not to take it.

Some studies have shown that people with bipolar disorder may have enhanced creativity. However, changes in mood can make it hard to sustain attention to projects or follow through with plans, resulting in the person having a lot of projects started, but nothing finished.

Symptoms

Symptoms vary between people, and according to mood. Some people have clear mood shifts, with symptoms of mania and then of depression each lasting for several months, or with months of stability between them. Some spend months or years in a “high” or “low” mood.

A “mixed state” is when a manic and a depressive episode happen at the same time. The person may feel negative, as with depression, but they may also feel “wired” and restless.

Mania or Hypomania

Hypomania and mania refer to a “high” mood. Mania is the more severe form.

Symptoms can include:

  • impaired judgment
  • feeing “wired”
  • a sense of distraction or boredom
  • missing work or school, or underperforming
  • thinking they can “do anything”
  • belief that nothing is wrong
  • being extremely forthcoming, sometimes aggressively so
  • likelihood of engaging in risky behavior
  • a sense of being on top of the world, exhilarated, or euphoric
  • excessive self-confidence, an inflated sense of self-esteem and self-importance
  • excessive and rapid talking, pressurized speech that may jump from one topic to another
  • “racing” thoughts that come and go quickly, and bizarre ideas that the person may act upon

This may include squandering money, abusing illegal drugs or alcohol, and taking part in dangerous activities. A higher libido may lead to promiscuity.

Depressive symptoms

During a depressive episode, the person may experience:

  • a feeling of gloom, blackness, despair, and hopelessness
  • extreme sadness
  • insomnia and sleeping problems
  • anxiety about trivial things
  • pain or physical problems that do not respond to treatment
  • guilt, and a feeling that everything that goes wrong or appears to be wrong is their fault
  • changes in eating patterns, whether eating more or eating less
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • extreme tiredness, fatigue, and listlessness
  • an inability to enjoy activities or interests that usually give pleasure
  • low attention span and difficulty remembering
  • irritation, possibly triggered by noises, smells, tight clothing, and other things that would usually be tolerated or ignored
  • an inability to face going to work or school, possibly leading to underperformance

Treatment

Treatment aims to minimize the frequency of manic and depressive episodes, and to reduce the severity of symptoms to enable a relatively normal and productive life. Left untreated, a bout of depression or mania can persist for up to 1 year. With treatment, improvements are possible within 3 to 4 months.

Treatment involves a combination of therapies, which may include medications and physical and psychological interventions. The person may continue to experience mood changes, but working closely with a doctor can reduce the severity and make the symptoms more manageable.

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