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What is a bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, sometimes known as manic-depressive disorder, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms are different from the ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time and can include extreme lows (depression) and extreme highs (mania).

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

When someone experiences the low, or depression, of bipolar disorder, he or she can feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in activities. On the other hand, when someone experiences the high, or mania, of bipolar disorder, he or she may feel euphoric and full of energy. Sometimes a mood episode includes symptoms of both mania and depression and is called a mixed state.

Mania or High:

  • Having a long period of feeling “high,” overly and inappropriately happy, or outgoing
  • Feeling excessively irritable, jumpy, or wired
  • Talking fast
  • Being easily distracted and restless
  • Sleeping little
  • Taking on new projects with extremely unrealistic optimism
  • Engaging in high-risk activities without regard for consequences
  • Psychotic thinking

Depression or Low:

  • Having a long period of feeling worried, empty, or sad
  • Feeling tired or sluggish
  • Having problems concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Being restless or irritable
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

Doctors usually diagnose four main types of bipolar disorder

  • Bipolar I is usually defined as the classic form of the illness, where a person experiences recurrent episodes of mania and depression
  • Bipolar II brings a milder form of mania called hypomania that alternates with depressive episodes
  • Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder with symptoms that don’t meet diagnostic requirements for bipolar I or II
  • Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS) is a diagnosis for disorders with bipolar features that don’t meet the criteria for any specific bipolar disorder

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder often develops in a person’s late teens or early adult years, with more than half of all cases starting before age 25. It is treatable, and people with the illness can lead full and productive lives. However, like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person’s life.

An effective maintenance treatment plan usually includes medication to control mood swings and symptoms. Psychotherapy, group therapy, and peer support can also be helpful in treatment and understanding of the disorder.

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