is Bipolar Disorder?
Emotional highs and lows are part of life for everyone. But for someone with bipolar disorder, these ups and downs can be so extreme they can interfere with daily life. Sometimes they can even be dangerous. One day a person with bipolar disorder may feel so depressed that they can't get out of bed. Work may seem impossible. On another day that person may feel great, full of endless energy and creativity. But other people might think that their actions are reckless and out of control. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong medical condition that can be confusing and unpredictable, but it's nothing to be embarrassed about. Learning more about bipolar disorder can be helpful in managing this medical illness.
Bipolar disorder is a serious medical illness that can affect a person's ability to feel a normal range of moods. People with bipolar disorder have mood swings that can range from very low (depression) to very high (mania).
Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depression. The word "bipolar" is now used because the disorder is made up of two poles, or extremes.
For example, picture a globe. The North Pole would be mania, and the South Pole would be depression. Every time a person experiences symptoms of one pole for a specific period of time, it is called an episode. They should talk with their healthcare providers about these episodes.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are four main types of bipolar disorder:
Bipolar I Disorder
Bipolar I disorder involves one or more manic or mixed episodes, and often one or more major depressive episodes. A depressive episode may last for several weeks or months. Between episodes of bipolar I disorder, there may be periods of normal functioning. Symptoms may also be related to seasonal changes.
Bipolar II Disorder
Bipolar II disorder involves one or more major depressive episodes along with at least one hypomanic episode. Hypomanic episodes have symptoms similar to manic episodes but are less severe. Between episodes of bipolar II disorder, there may be periods of normal functioning. Symptoms may also be related to seasonal changes.
Cyclothymic disorder is a long-term fluctuating mood disturbance with periods of hypomania and periods of depression. It is a milder form of bipolar disorder. That's because the periods of both depression and hypomania are shorter, less severe, and do not occur with regularity.
Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified
This type of bipolar disorder is when the person does not fit into the types of bipolar disorder mentioned above. The experiences of bipolar disorder vary from person to person. Just like the other types of bipolar disorder, bipolar disorder not otherwise specified is treatable.
Causes and Risk Factors
Scientists don’t really know what causes bipolar disorder. They do believe that genetics plays a role. For instance, more than two thirds of people with bipolar disorder also have a relative with the same condition or some other mood disorder. But genetics alone does not cause someone to develop bipolar disorder. We don’t yet know what those other things are.
This is what we do know about bipolar disorder:
Bipolar disorder most commonly starts in teenagers and young adults. But it can also first occur in children and older adults. Bipolar disorder equally affects people of all races and ethnic groups. Special chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, may be involved in the disease. If the levels of these chemicals are out of balance, it may be harder for brain cells to work normally.
Bipolar disorder may be related to problems with hormone levels. For instance, experts have noticed a link between thyroid hormone levels and bipolar disorder. Certain parts of the brain may have a different size or shape in people with bipolar disorder. The changes could be a cause or symptom of the condition. In some cases, other illnesses may play a role in bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a serious medical illness. However, mood swings can be triggered by events and emotions in your life. If you have to cope with some unpleasant, sad, or even happy events you may be, you're at greater risk for manic and depressive episodes.
Triggers, also called stressors, are anything that may help cause a mood swing. Some common triggers include:
• Not having a regular sleep schedule
• Misusing alcohol or drugs
• Stopping your medication
• Starting medicines for depression (in some cases), or other medicines and herbal products
• Having thyroid problems and other medical conditions
Not everyone's triggers are the same. Some people find that triggers can be things like:
• Seasonal changes
• Disagreements with family or friends
• Problems at work
• The death of a loved one
• Starting college
• Starting a new job
Once you figure out what may trigger your mood swings, the next step is to learn how to avoid them when possible. That involves taking action.
For instance, you may notice that not getting enough sleep causes you to become depressed. Try to plan a regular sleep schedule.
You should also consider discussing your triggers with family and friends. That way, they can help you avoid your triggers, too.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
• Increased energy level
• Less need for sleep
• Racing thoughts or mind jumps around
• Easily distracted
• More talkative than usual or feeling pressure to keep talking
• More self-confident than usual
• Focused on getting things done, but often completing little
• Risky or unusual activities to the extreme, even if it’s likely bad things will happen
• Feeling sad or blue, or “down in the dumps”
• Loss of interest in things the person used to enjoy, including sex
• Feeling worthless, hopeless, or guilty
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Changes in weight or appetite
• Feeling tired or having little or no energy
• Feeling restless
• Problems concentrating or making decisions
• Thoughts of death or suicide
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. But today there are many treatments for people with bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder should ask their healthcare providers how to best stabilize their moods and work with their healthcare providers to find what is best for them.
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