Bipolar disorder, also commonly called manic depression, is characterized by mood swings and repeated episodes of depression with at least one episode of mania.
Bipolar disorder was formally conceptualized by Emil Kraeplin more than 100 years ago, but its symptoms were first described as long ago as 200 A.D.
Bipolar disorder has a number of types, including bipolar type I and bipolar type II disorder based on the severity of symptoms, and may be described as mixed or rapid cycling based on the duration and frequency of episodes.
As with most other mental disorders, bipolar disorder is not directly passed from one generation to another genetically but is thought to be the result of a complex group of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.
The adolescent with bipolar disorder is more likely to exhibit depression and mixed episodes, with rapid changes in mood.
Fact About Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is the fifth leading cause of disability worldwide.
Bipolar disorder is the ninth leading cause of years lost to death or disability worldwide.
The number of individuals with bipolar disorder who commit suicide is 60 times higher than that of the general population.
People who have bipolar disorder are at a higher risk of also suffering from substance abuse and other mental health problems.
Males may develop bipolar disorder earlier in life compared to females.
As with most other mental disorders, bipolar disorder is not directly passed from one generation to another genetically. Rather, it is the result of a complex group of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. Genetically, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have much in common, in that the two disorders share a number of the same risk genes. However, both illnesses also have some genetic factors that are unique.
Stress has been found to be a significant contributor to the development of most mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder in women tend to include more depression and anxiety as well as a rapid-cycling pattern compared to symptoms in men.
In order to qualify for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a person must experience at least one manic episode. Characteristics of manic episodes must last at least a week (unless it is a mixed episode) and include
elevated, expansive, or irritable mood;
pressured speech (rapid, excessive speech);
decreased need for sleep;
grandiose beliefs (for example, feeling like one has super powers or superlative talents or faults);
tangential speech (repeatedly changing conversational topics to topics that are hardly related);
increased goal directed activity;
impulsivity and poor judgment.
Symptoms of the manic episode of early onset bipolar disorder tend to include outbursts of anger and rage, as well as irritability, as opposed to the expansive, excessively elevated mood seen in adults. The adolescent with bipolar disorder is more likely to exhibit depression and mixed episodes, with rapid changes in mood. Despite differences in the symptoms of bipolar disorder in teens and children compared to adults, many who are diagnosed with certain kinds of bipolar disorder before adulthood continue to have those symptoms as adults. Symptoms of bipolar disorder in women tend to include more depression and anxiety and a rapid cycling pattern compared to symptoms in men.
Although a major depressive episode is not required for the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, such episodes often alternate with manic episodes. In fact, depression occurs more often than mania in many people with bipolar disorder. Characteristics of depressive episodes include a number of the following symptoms: persistently depressed or irritable mood; decreased interest in previously pleasurable activities; change or problems in appetite, weight, or sleep; agitation or lack of activity; fatigue; feelings of worthlessness; trouble concentrating; thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts, plans or actions.
Since there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has bipolar disorder, health care professionals diagnose this disease by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental health information in addition to performing physical and mental health evaluations.
As is true with virtually any mental health diagnosis, there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has bipolar disorder. Therefore, health care professionals diagnose this disease by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental health information. The health care professional will also either perform a physical examination or request that the individual’s primary care doctor perform one. The medical examination will usually include lab tests to evaluate the person’s general health and to explore whether or not the individual has a medical condition that might have mental health symptoms.
In asking questions about mental health symptoms, mental health professionals are often exploring if the individual suffers from depression and/or manic symptoms but also anxiety, substance abuse, hallucinations or delusions, as well as some personality and behavioral disorders. Health care professionals may provide the people they evaluate with a quiz or self-test as a screening tool for bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. Since some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder can also occur in other mental illnesses, the mental health screening is to determine if the individual suffers from bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder like panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The examiner also explores whether the person with bipolar disorder suffers from other mental illnesses like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and other psychotic disorders, or a substance abuse, personality, or behavior disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Any disorder that is associated with sudden changes in behavior, mood, or thinking, like a psychotic disorder, borderline personality disorder, or multiple personality disorder (MPD), may be particularly challenging to distinguish from bipolar disorder. In order to assess the person’s current emotional state, health care professionals perform a mental status examination as well.
Treatment of bipolar disorder with medications tends to relieve already existing symptoms of mania or depression and prevent symptoms from returning.
Talk therapy (psychotherapy) is an important part of helping individuals with bipolar disorder achieve the highest level of functioning possible.
When treating individuals with bipolar disorder who are pregnant or nursing, health care professionals take great care to balance the need to maintain the person’s stable mood and behavior while minimizing the risks that medications used to treat this disorder may present.