What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that may cause extreme shifts in a person’s mood including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). This illness also causes changes in energy and may affect your ability to think clearly or make decisions.
When you are in the state of of mania or hypomania (which is a less extreme version of mania), you may feel blissful, full of energy or unusually irritable. When you are depressed, you may feel sadness, hopelessness and loss of interest or pleasure in most activities. These mood swings may affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior and the ability to think clearly.
Symptoms of mania or depression may occur every few months but sometimes occur very rarely. While most people will experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, however, you can manage your symptoms by following a treatment plan created by your psychiatrist or mental health provider. In most cases, bipolar disorder is treated with psychiatric medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy).
What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
There are a few types of bipolar disorders and symptoms. These may include mania or hypomania and depression. Symptoms can cause erratic changes in your behavior, and your mood, resulting in significant distress and difficulty in life. If you are currently experiencing any of these symptoms, please schedule an appointment with your psychiatric provider.
- Bipolar I disorder. You’ve had at least one manic episode that may be preceded or followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes. In some cases, mania may trigger a break from reality (psychosis).
- Bipolar II disorder. You’ve had at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but you’ve never had a manic episode.
- Cyclothymic disorder. You’ve had at least two years — or one year in children and teenagers — of many periods of hypomania symptoms and periods of depressive symptoms (though less severe than major depression).
- Other types. These include, for example, bipolar and related disorders induced by certain drugs or alcohol or due to a medical condition, such as Cushing’s disease, multiple sclerosis or stroke.
It is important to note that Bipolar II disorder is not a milder form of bipolar I disorder, and is seen as a separate diagnosis. While the manic episodes of bipolar I disorder can be severe and dangerous, individuals with bipolar II disorder can be depressed for longer periods, which can cause significant impairment.
Although bipolar disorder can occur at any age, typically it’s diagnosed in the teenage years or early 20s. Symptoms can vary from person to person, and symptoms may vary over time.
What is Mania and Hypomania?
Mania and hypomania are two distinct types of Bipolar episodes, but they have very similar symptoms. Mania is more severe than hypomania and may cause more noticeable problems in your personal life, at school, or at work. Mania may impair your social activities, as well as create relationship difficulties. Mania may also trigger a break from reality (psychosis) and require hospitalization.
Both a manic and a hypomanic episode include three or more of these symptoms:
- Abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired
- Increased activity, energy or agitation
- Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria)
- Decreased need for sleep
- Unusual talkativeness
- Racing thoughts
- Poor decision-making — for example, excessive shopping or having multiple sexual partners in short periods of time.
What is a Major Depressive Episode?
A major depressive episode includes symptoms that may cause noticeable difficulty in daily functions, such as work, school, social activities or relationships. A Major Depressive episode must include five or more of the following symptoms:
- Depressed mood, such as feeling sad, empty, hopeless or tearful (in children and teens, depressed mood can appear as irritability)
- Loss of interest or feeling no pleasure in most activities
- Significant weight loss, weight gain.
- Increase or decrease in appetite (in children, failure to gain weight as expected can be a sign of depression)
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Restlessness or slowed behavior
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Decreased ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
- Thinking about, planning or attempting suicide
The most prominent signs of bipolar disorder in children and teenagers may include severe mood swings that are different from their usual mood swings.
Other symptoms of bipolar I and bipolar II disorders may include anxiety, panic, upset moods, psychosis or others. The timing of symptoms may be sporadic and go through rapid cycles. Bipolar symptoms may occur during pregnancy or change with the seasons.
Can Bipolar Disorder I or Bipolar Disorder II Be Prevented
Since Bipolar Disorder is generally a genetic disorder, there’s no way to prevent the mental disorder. Getting treatment from a psychiatrist at the earliest sign of a mental health disorder such as Bipolar can help prevent symptoms from worsening.
If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, some strategies can help prevent minor symptoms from becoming full-blown episodes of mania or depression:
- Pay attention to warning signs. If you believe you have symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, see a psychiatric provider immediately. Addressing symptoms early on can prevent symptoms and episodes from getting worse. You may have identified a pattern to your bipolar symptomatic episodes and what makes them worse. Call your doctor if you feel you’re falling into an episode of depression or mania. Enroll family and/or friends in watching for warning signs.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Using alcohol or recreational drugs can worsen your symptoms and make them more likely to come back.
- Take your medications exactly as directed. A lot of patients think that since they are feeling better, it is time to stop taking their medication. This is incorrect. Do not stop treatment unless directed by a medical professional. Abruptly stopping your medication or reducing your dose on your own may cause withdrawal effects and these actions may cause your symptoms to worsen or return.