Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). An individual with bipolar disorder will experience changes in energy, moods, and levels of activity that make day-to-day living difficult. This means that it affects how a person feels and the moods can shift massively. A person will experience episodes of mania and depression and when the mood changes, there will be changes in the energy levels and how a person acts. People with bipolar disorder may have trouble managing their day-to-day life activities at work or school, or maintaining relationships. This condition has no cure but numerous treatment options are available which can help in managing the symptoms.
One usually develops bipolar disorder before the age of 20. The condition can develop in later life but it rarely occurs after one has attained 40 years of age.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
A person may be diagnosed with one of the three broad categories of bipolar disorder. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) indicated that the symptoms can arise on a spectrum, and the dissimilarity between the types is not often clear.
Bipolar I disorder
For an individual to be diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, the individual;
- Must have experienced at least one episode of mania.
- May have previously had a major depressive episode.
- The doctor must rule out the possibilities of other disorders like delusional disorder and schizophrenia.
Bipolar II disorder
This type of bipolar disorder entails periods of hypomania although the dominant state is often depression.
For an individual to be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder;
- The individual must have experienced at least one episode of depression
- The person must have experienced one or more episodes of hypomania
- The individual must have had no other diagnosis that explains the mood changes.
While people may sometimes perceive bipolar II disorder as a milder version, NAMI indicates that individuals diagnosed with bipolar II disorder are likely to experience more recurrent episodes of depression compared to individuals with bipolar I disorder.
Individuals diagnosed with cyclothymia experience episodes of hypomania and depression. The symptoms are shorter and less severe compared to the depression and mania caused by the other two types of bipolar disorder. Many of the individuals with cyclothymia only experience a month or two of stable moods.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
This condition can be caused by a combination of factors including:
- Environmental factors– include life events like abuse, mental stress, and traumatic events
- Genetic factors– the condition commonly appears in individuals who have a family member with bipolar disorder.
- Biological traits– according to research, imbalances in neurotransmitters or hormones that affect the brain may cause the condition.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The International Bipolar Association indicated that the symptoms vary between persons. Some individuals may experience an episode that lasts for months or years while others may experience “highs” and “lows” at the same time or in quick succession. The International Bipolar Association further indicates that in a “rapid cycling” bipolar disorder, an individual will undergo at least four episodes within 12 months. The episodes and their symptoms include:
Hypomania or Mania
These are elevated moods where mania is more severe than hypomania. The symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Little sleeping with no feelings of tiredness
- Weird feelings
- Impaired judgment
- Feeling distracted or bored
- Missing school or work
- Engaging in risky activities or behavior
- Rapid and too much talking
- Feeling able to do anything
- Being in denial or not realizing when things are wrong
- Underperformance at school and work
- High self-importance, self-confidence, and self-esteem levels.
When an individual is undergoing an episode of bipolar depression, the symptoms include:
- Insomnia and problems with sleeping
- Feeling gloomy, hopeless, and desperate
- Feeling extremely sad
- Too much or too little eating
- Frequent irritation
- Loss or gain of weight
- A sense of guilt that may be misplaced
- Fatigue or severe tiredness
- Difficult to concentrate and remember
- Pain or physical problems that are not responsive to treatment
- Being sensitive to smells, noises, and other things that go unnoticed by others
In severe cases, individuals may contemplate suicide and may actualize those thoughts.
Psychosis is experienced when the ‘low’ or ‘high’ episode is very intense. An individual who is experiencing psychosis may have difficulties differentiating between fantasy and reality.
The International Bipolar Foundation indicated that the psychosis symptoms during a high include:
- Hallucinations that entail hearing or seeing non-existent things
- Delusions that are false but robustly felt beliefs
During the ‘low’ episode, symptoms include an individual believing that s/he has committed a crime or is ruined and penniless.
All these symptoms can be managed with appropriate treatment.
Treatment of Bipolar Disorder
The purpose of the treatment is to stabilize the moods of the individual and reduce the severity of the symptoms. The objective is to assist the individual to be able to function effectively in daily life.
Treatment involves combining various therapies that include:
- Lifestyle remedies
- Physical intervention
Due to the variation in how individuals react and the wide variation in the symptoms, it could take time to get an accurate diagnosis and finding the appropriate treatment.
Some of the drugs that can be prescribed by a doctor to manage symptoms and help stabilize the mood include a combination of antidepressants, mood stabilizers like lithium, anticonvulsants for relieving mania, and second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs).
Some lifestyle remedies that could help manage symptoms and maintain a stable mood include exercising regularly, keeping a regular routine, and following a healthful and varied diet among others.