What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic-depression) is an illness, a medical condition. It affects the normal functioning of the brain, so that the person experiences extreme moods — very high and over-excited or very low and depressed. The person may be affected so much that he or she experiences the symptoms of psychosis, and is unable to distinguish what is real. The symptoms generally react well to treatment, and most people with bipolar disorder recover well from episodes of the illness.

What are the symptoms?

People with bipolar disorder can become high, over-excited and reckless, or imagine that they are more important or influential than they are in real life. They can also become extremely low, feeling helpless and depressed, with difficulty making decisions or concentrating. Some people mainly experience highs. Some experience mainly lows, and some experience both extremes — becoming profoundly depressed or over-excited. The person may then behave in an uncharacteristically irrational or risky manner.

What causes Bipolar Disorder?

The causes of bipolar disorder are not fully understood. As with any other illnesses, they are likely to be a combination of hereditary and other causes, but a genetic predisposition to develop the illness has been clearly established by scientists.

There are several types of bipolar disorder. Each type is identified by the pattern of episodes of mania and depression. The treatment that is best for you may differ depending on the type of bipolar disorder you have. Your doctor will look carefully to determine where your symptoms fit.

  • Bipolar I Disorder (mania and depression) – Bipolar I disorder is the classic form of the illness, as well as the most severe type of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by at least one manic episode or mixed episode. The vast majority of people with bipolar I disorder have also experienced at least one episode of major depression, although this isn’t required for diagnosis.
  • Bipolar II Disorder (hypomania and depression) – Mania is not involved in bipolar II disorder. Instead, the illness involves recurring episodes of major depression and hypomania, a milder form of mania. In order to be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, you must have experienced at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode in your lifetime. If you ever have a manic episode, your diagnosis would be changed to bipolar I disorder.
  • Cyclothymia (hypomania and mild depression) – Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar disorder. Like bipolar disorder, cyclothymia consists of cyclical mood swings. However, the highs and lows are not severe enough to qualify as either mania or major depression. To be diagnosed with cyclothymia, you must experience numerous periods of hypomania and mild depression over at least a two-year time span. Because people with cyclothymia are at an increased risk of developing full-blown bipolar disorder, it is a condition that should be monitored and treated.

How is Bipolar Disorder treated?

A comprehensive treatment plan for bipolar disorder aims to relieve symptoms, restore your ability to function, fix problems the illness has caused at home and at work, and reduce the likelihood of recurrence. A complete treatment plan involves:

  • Medication – Medication is the cornerstone on bipolar disorder treatment. Taking a mood stabilizing medication can help minimize the highs and lows of bipolar disorder and keep symptoms under control.
  • Psychotherapy – Therapy is essential for dealing with bipolar disorder and the problems it has caused in your life. Working with a therapist, you can learn how to cope with difficult or uncomfortable feelings, repair your relationships, manage stress, and regulate your mood.
  • Education – Managing symptoms and preventing complications begins with a thorough knowledge of your illness. Education is a key component of treatment. The more you and your loved ones know about bipolar disorder, the better able you’ll be to avoid problems and deal with setbacks.
  • Lifestyle management – By carefully regulating your lifestyle, you can keep symptoms and mood episodes to a minimum. This involves maintaining a regular sleep schedule, avoiding alcohol and drugs, following a consistent exe can do much to reduce and even eliminate the symptoms. Treatment should generally include a combination of medication and counselling by trained professionals together with support from family and community.