Understanding the signs of bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder, often called manic-depressive disorder, is a serious, chronic mental health disorder that is associated with incredible changes in mood that range from the highs of mania to the dark lows of depression. Bipolar people may feel euphoric, full of energy and ambition, and may need less sleep and even forget to eat. During a depressive cycle, people feel depressed, worthless, and hopeless, as though life is something to be tolerated, not enjoyed. These mood shifts can occur only a couple times a year or up to a couple of times each day. Sometimes, people have “mixed states,” which occur when a person has symptoms of both mania and depression at the same time. There are several types of bipolar disorder with a variable pattern of symptoms. These disorders include:
Bipolar I disorder: Mood swings with bipolar I disorder can cause significant challenges in employment, school, and among interpersonal relationships. Bipolar I disorder can cause full-blown manic episodes that can be extremely dangerous.
Bipolar II is a less severe form of bipolar disorder. While people may have an elevated mood, irritability, and changes in daily functioning, they are still able to carry out their activities of daily living. Rather than manic episodes, people who have bipolar II experience hypomania; a less severe type of mania. People who have bipolar disorder II often have longer depressive states that last longer than hypomanic episodes.
Cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia, is a mild form of bipolar disorder. While episodes of hypomania and depression are disruptive, the highs and lows people who have cyclothymia experience are not as severe as in other forms of bipolar disorder.
Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder is a particularly severe form of bipolar disorder and is diagnosed when a person experiences four or more episodes of depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states within one year.
While people who have bipolar disorder experience a long-term, chronic condition that can disrupt every aspect of their lives, mood states can be kept in check by following a treatment plan that includes medication management and therapies throughout their life.
Statistics for bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million adults (or 2.6% of the population) in the United States every year. While bipolar disorder affects men and women equally, about three times as many women experience rapid cycling. The median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years of age, however the illness can develop in childhood or as late as in the 40s or 50s.
Causes & risk factors for bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is not thought to be the result of a single risk factor; researchers believe that bipolar disorder is caused by a number of factors working together to create bipolar disorder. The most commonly cited risk factors for bipolar disorder include:
Genetic: Bipolar disorder tends to run in families. People who have a first-degree relative who has bipolar disorder are more likely than others without a similar family history to develop bipolar disorder.
Physical: Brain-imaging studies have shown that the brains of people who have bipolar disorder may differ from those who do not. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, used for solving problems and making decisions, has been noted to be smaller and to function less well than in those who do not have a similar history. Additionally, an imbalance in naturally-occurring neurotransmitters can play a large role in developing bipolar disorder and other mood disorders.
Environmental: It’s thought that many people may have a dormant form of bipolar disorder that may be triggered by stress, trauma, abuse, and significant loss.
- Substance abuse
- Major life changes
- Being in your early 20s
Symptoms of bipolar disorder
The precise symptoms of bipolar disorder vary wildly from person to person based upon the type of bipolar disorder, the duration of the illness, and the presence of co-occurring disorders. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are broken down into the types of symptoms present in bipolar disorder:
Manic (or hypomanic) symptoms:
- Inflated sense of self-worth
- Increased self-esteem
- Poor judgment
- Rapid speech
- Racing thoughts
- Aggressive behaviors
- Agitation and irritation
- Increased physical activities
- Risky behaviors
- Spending sprees and other unwise financial choices
- Increased sex drive
- Easily distracted
- Careless usage of drugs and alcohol
- Psychosis – break from reality
- Poor performance at work or school
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Sleep problems
- Low appetite or increased appetite
- Increased or decreased need for sleep
- Feeling “slowed down”
- Loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities
- Problems concentrating
- Chronic pain without a known cause
- Frequent absences from work or school
- Poor job or scholastic performances
Effects of bipolar disorder
While bipolar disorder is a very treatable illness, many people do not seek immediate treatment for this disorder. The long-term complications and effects of bipolar disorder can be devastating in virtually every aspect of the man or woman’s life and may include:
- Social isolation
- Problems related to substance and alcohol abuse
- Legal problems
- Relationship discord
- Poor work or school performance
- Social isolation and loneliness
- Frequent absences from work or school
- Suicidal ideation
Bipolar & co-occurring disorders
Many people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder are struggling with another mental illness. The most commonly co-occurring disorders include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Conduct disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Disruptive behavior disorders
- Other substance abuse