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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million people in the United States over the age of 18 years old every year.  There are three different types of bipolar disorder, but in general the symptoms consist of unusual shifts in mood, energy levels, activity, and ability to complete everyday tasks.  Also, switching off from feeling really up to feeling extremely down is a typical symptom.

Bipolar 1 is the most severe case, and what is common with this disorder is experiencing manic episodes that last for at least seven days, or having such severe mania that the person requires medical care.  In most cases, a severe depression will follow the manic periods, and the depression lasts for about two weeks.  So one will experience extended periods of intense mood fluctuations of extreme high and extreme low.

Bipolar 2 is similar to bipolar 1, however it is less severe in terms of the length of manic and depressive episodes as well as severity of these.

Cyclothymic disorder is similar to bipolar disorder 2 because of the mood swings of intense highs and lows.  However, this disorder is much less severe.  The highs never fully reach mania and the lows never fully reach depressive states.  Someone who has cyclothymic disorder has mood swings that are classified as abnormal, but they are not severe enough to be considered full-blown bipolar disorder.  In order to be diagnosed with this disorder, the mood swings would need to be present for at least 2 years for adults, and at least 1 year for children & adolescents.

An obvious symptom of a manic episode is someone acting more energetic than they normally would.  They may feel like their thoughts are racing and they may have a bunch of ideas but are too antsy to actually form and complete them.  They also may be irritable or “touchy”.  Another common symptom when manic is to have trouble sleeping and eating, usually too little.  It is also common to engage in risky behaviors that are not thought out, such as spending a bunch of money.

When someone is having a depressive episode, they are more “down” than they usually are, and may be withdrawn from activities that usually interest them or isolate themselves from family/friends.  It is also common for one to feel hopeless, sad, or empty, and even think about death or suicide.  They may have little energy, over sleep, and have trouble concentrating on tasks.

People with severe episodes of mania or depression, usually bipolar disorder 1, may experience some psychotic symptoms such as delusions and/or hallucinations.  There is also some comorbidity (two disorders that are likely to occur together) with schizophrenia, anxiety, attention-defecit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and substance abuse.

As with most disorders; there is no one specific reason why someone will get bipolar disorder.  There are several risk factors that possibly play into the development of bipolar disorder such as family heritage/genetics, and brain structure/functioning.

The most beneficial treatment for bipolar disorder is medication.  Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is a life-long disease that is not curable.  However on the bright side, it is completely treatable and can be kept under control with the right medications.  The most important concept is to continue to take the medication prescribed, so as not to risk having a manic or depressive episode.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

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