Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar disorders are brain disorders that cause changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. Bipolar disorder is a category that includes three different conditions — bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymic disorder. 

People with bipolar disorders have extreme and intense emotional states that occur at distinct times, called mood episodes. These mood episodes are categorized as manic, hypomanic or depressive. People with bipolar disorders generally have periods of normal mood as well. Bipolar disorders can be treated, and people with these illnesses can lead full and productive lives. 

Bipolar disorder can cause dramatic mood swings. During a manic episode, people with bipolar I disorder may feel high and on top of the world, or uncomfortably irritable and “revved up.“ During a depressive episode they may feel sad and hopeless. There are often periods of normal moods in between these episodes. Bipolar I disorder is diagnosed when a person has a manic episode. 

 

A manic episode is a period of at least one week when a person is very high spirited or irritable in an extreme way most of the day for most days, has more energy than usual and experiences at least three of the following, showing a change in behavior: 

  • Exaggerated self-esteem or grandiosity 
  • Less need for sleep 
  • Talking more than usual, talking loudly and quickly 
  • Easily distracted 
  • Doing many activities at once, scheduling more events in a day than can be accomplished 
  • Increased risky behavior (e.g., reckless driving, spending sprees) 
  • Uncontrollable racing thoughts or quickly changing ideas or topics 

The changes are significant and clear to friends and family. Symptoms are severe enough to cause dysfunction and problems with work, family or social activities and responsibilities. Symptoms of a manic episode may require a person to get hospital care to stay safe. The average age for a first manic episode is 18, but it can start anytime from early childhood to later adulthood. 

 

Treatments for disorders— medication and psychotherapy. Medications most commonly used are mood stabilizers and antidepressants, depending on the specific symptoms. If depression symptoms are severe and medication is not working, ECT (see above) may be used. Each person is different and each treatment is individualized. 


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