Bipolar disorder was once called manic-depressive disorder - A mental health condition that creates intense changes in mood and mental state. While in extreme states of mania or depression, the ability to think clearly and make good judgements is compromised. These states can last for varying amounts of time. They may occur several times a year or seldomly. Fortunately, treatment plans can manage the symptoms of this lifelong condition. Here is everything you need to know about bipolar disorder:
Bipolar disorder, is a dramatic shift in activity level, mood, and energy. These drastic changes impact a person’s ability to perform daily tasks at work and school and can also affect relationships. High, or manic episodes can last for days or weeks. The same is true for low, or depressive episodes.
There are three symptoms which may be indicative of bipolar disorder:
Mania – Mania is an emotionally high experience. These episodes can be exciting, euphoric, energetic, and impulsive.
Hypomania – Similar to mania, hypomania is a less severe experience. It is generally associated with a Bipolar II diagnosis. While this state may not lead to dangerous situations, or create issues in your daily life, it is still a noticeable mood change.
Depression – Depression is a feeling of deep sadness, hopelessness, as well as a loss of energy and lack of interest in activities.
Bipolar disorder affects women differently than men. For women, this condition is typically diagnosed in the 20s or 30s, and depressive episodes are typically more common than manic episodes. However, when manic episodes occur, they are less extreme. Women can also experience rapid cycling. This occurs when one has four or more manic and depressive episodes in a year. It is also common for women to develop other conditions simultaneously. Thyroid disease, anxiety disorder, obesity, and migraines headaches can all accompany bipolar disorder.
Men with bipolar disorder are typically diagnosed earlier in life. Statistically men are less likely to seek treatment and medical care than women. This can be especially dangerous considering that manic episodes tend to be more common and more severe for men. Substance abuse can also be an issue for men with bipolar disorder.
While bipolar disorder is considered a common mental health condition, its causes are not clear. Genetics is one possible source. People with parents or siblings with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop it as well. Abnormalities in the structure of your brain can also play a role in developing the condition. Other external factors like physical illness, extreme stress, and traumatic experiences are also believed to contribute to bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is categorized into three different types:
Bipolar I – Bipolar I is characterized by the occurrence of at least one manic episode. A hypomanic or depressive experience may also occur before or after the manic episode. Bipolar I is equally common in men and women.
Bipolar II – Bipolar II occurs when one major depressive episode lasting at least two weeks, and a hypomanic episode lasting for four day is experienced. Bipolar II is more common in women.
Cyclothymia- When episodes of hypomania and depression are shorter with less severe symptoms than Bipolar I and Bipolar II, it is known as Cyclothymia. People with Cyclothymia only experience one to two months each year of stable moods.
Because mood swings vary in frequency and significance from person to person, bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose. In order for a manic episode to be diagnosed, the symptoms must last for at least a week or cause hospitalization. The manic symptoms must be experienced nearly all day, every day over this period of time. Depressive episodes need to follow the same guidelines for two weeks to qualify for a diagnosis.
Your doctor will use several exams and tests to assess and diagnose your bipolar disorder. This battery of tests may include:
Mental Health Evaluation – A psychiatrist will conduct this evaluation and look for signs of bipolar disorder.
Physical Exam – A complete physical exam, including blood and urine tests, by your physician can rule out any underlying causes to your symptoms.
DSM – The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines the symptoms of various mental disorders. Your doctor can use this manual to confirm that status of your bipolar disorder diagnosis.
Mood Journal – Another useful resource is a mood journal. Your doctor may want you to log your moods over a period of time. Keeping a list of your moods and how long each one lasts, in addition to your eating habits and sleep schedule, can provide valuable insight.
Depending on the type and severity of your bipolar disorder, your doctor may suggest one or a combination of a variety of treatments:
Therapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy is an opportunity for you to speak with a therapist and determine how to understand your thinking patterns and other coping methods to manage this disorder. IPSRT, or interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, is designed to regulate your daily habits. Psychoeducation helps with counseling you and your loved ones to better understand bipolar disorder.
Medication – Mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety, and anti-depression medication can be used to control the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Lifestyle Changes – Understanding how to recognize your manic or depressive states is a helpful skill. Other lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy diet and sleep schedule can also help to manage this condition.