What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by cycling extreme mood swings ranging from emotional “highs” (mania or hypomania) and emotional “lows” (depression). Mania is described as a feeling of euphoria and being full of energy. Depression is described as feeling sad, hopeless and losing interest in hobbies and activities. Normal moods often occur in between these two extremes. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year or they may occur several times a week. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 9 million people in the United States.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder
To understand the different types of bipolar disorder, it is important to recognize the individual symptoms of the three different mood categories: mania, hypomania and depression.
- Mania: Mania symptoms include excessive happiness and excitement; extreme irritability; restlessness; insomnia; rapid speech; poor concentration; increased energy; unusually high sex drive; making grand and unrealistic plans; poor judgement; impulsiveness, especially in regards to purchases; drug and alcohol abuse; and delusions of grandeur and psychotic episodes.
- Hypomania: Hypomania is a milder form of mania and symptoms include many of the symptoms of mania (such as elevated mood, high energy and restlessness), but does not include delusions of grandeur or psychotic episodes.
- Depression: Depression symptoms include sadness; loss of energy; hypersomnia (excessive sleeping); loss of interest in hobbies; feeling a sense of worthlessness or hopelessness; irritability; difficulty in making decisions; loss or unusual gain of appetite; thoughts of suicide; attempts of suicide.
Forms of bipolar disorder
There are two distinct forms of bipolar disorder:
- Type 1 involves severe emotional swings from mania to depression. Often the swings of mania will be relatively equal to the swings of depression.
- Type 2 is a milder form of bipolar disorder. True mania is a rare occurrence and is more characterized by swings of hypomania and depression.
There are also other terms that are important to the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. A “mixed state” involves symptoms of both mania/hypomania. For example, you may have a large amount of energy, racing thoughts and insomnia, while at the same time often being irritable, feeling hopeless and having thoughts of suicide. A mixed state is considered very dangerous and medical help should be sought if you experience these symptoms. “Rapid-cycling” is a term that involves having four or more mood swings within a period of twelve months. Some people may experience mood swings within a period of weeks or even, in cases of ultra rapid-cycling, within a single day. Women are more likely to have periods of rapid-cycling than men.
Bipolar disorder cannot be cured. However, a number of treatments and lifestyle changes are available to help control and manage the symptoms of this disorder. Medications such as mood stabilizers, benzodiazepines, anti-psychotics and anti-depressants are effective in treating various aspects of bipolar disorder. In many cases, various medications may be prescribed together. Therapy is an important part in managing symptoms and the effects of bipolar disorder in your everyday life. It is important to create a plan with friends and family so that they can identify signs of mania and depression to help with your treatment.