Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that is characterized by mood cycles that vary between mania (or hypomania, a less severe form of mania) and depression.
During a manic episode, a person can feel elated, have more self-confidence, need less sleep, have racing thoughts, take more risks, become more talkative, or become more irritable.
In contrast, during an episode of depression, a person can suffer from feelings of worthlessness, loss of interest, low self-esteem, and lack of energy. Usually, patients with bipolar disorder first seek help during an episode of depression, when they feel unusually tired or down.
There are two types of bipolar disorder, based on the severity of the symptoms of mania or depression and how quickly mood cycles occur.
- Bipolar I disorder, moods swing between mania and depression, sometimes with periods of normal mood between extremes.
- With Bipolar II disorder, depression is more prominent than mania, and manic episodes are often less common and less severe.
That being said, there is a higher incidence of rapid cycling (where a person "rapidly" cycles between depression and mania), and mixed states (where a person experiences symptoms of mania and depression simultaneously) in women, and a higher incidence of early-onset bipolar disorder in men.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder can begin to appear at any age. In early-onset bipolar disorder, symptoms can start showing up in children and teenagers between the ages of 6 and 19. In late-onset bipolar disorder, symptoms can occur at any point of adulthood, but most commonly start appearing around the age of 40.
There is nothing that can be done to prevent or cause bipolar disorder, however a person’s chances of having bipolar disorder are greatly increased if a close relative (such as a grandparent or sibling) has bipolar disorder.
Adolescents with bipolar disorder often struggle in school due to their lack of ability to focus, and their increased irritability (during manic phases). These adolescents often have conflicts at home as well, due to their explosive tempers.
Treatment for bipolar disorder most often includes a combination of mood- stabilizing drugs and psychotherapy.
People suffering from bipolar disorder are often treated with an anticonvulsant, an antipsychotic, and lithium – or a combination of these three medications. Many people with bipolar disorder continue taking these drugs for the rest of their lives.
Medication is vital to managing bipolar disorder because they can help stabilize a persons moods, thus decreasing the severity of manic and depression episodes.
Along with medication, ongoing psychotherapy, or "talk" therapy, plays an immensely important role in managing bipolar disorder. During therapy, patients can talk about their feelings, such as what angers them, or makes them sad.
Psychotherapy for patients with bipolar disorder helps them learn to live with their disorder, and have it negatively affect their lives as little as possible.
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