Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder affects more than 2 million adult men and women in the United States every year. It can cause severe mood swings, periods of depression and mania, and can seriously damage your relationships, job commitments, and health. Bipolar disorder can affect anyone it does not discriminate. Though the disorder is generally a long-term illness, bipolar disorder treatment can effectively reduce your symptoms, offering you a greater quality of life.

What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes huge shifts in your emotions, energy level, and physical ability. Until recently, the illness was called manic depression, but it now has the more accurate name, bipolar disorder. This name reflects the two extreme "poles" or states of emotion that sufferers exhibit mania and depression. Bipolar disorder is the result of a malfunction in the brain's ability to communicate.

If you have bipolar disorder, the neurotransmitters in your brain work improperly, causing you to have extremes of emotion. Bipolar disorder is more likely to affect women than men. It usually occurs in late adolescence or early adulthood, though bipolar disorder in children can occur.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
Causes of bipolar disorder are still unknown. It is strongly suggested that bipolar disorder is the result of a genetic problem that causes the brain's neurochemicals to function improperly. Bipolar disorder definitely seems to run in families, with 60% of sufferers having a family history of the illness. Bipolar disorder causes may include environmental factors like stressful events, but those who have developed the disorder were probably already predisposed to it.

What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is associated with severe and extreme symptoms. However, bipolar disorder symptoms are often not recognized or are confused with other illnesses, which can unfortunately lead to unnecessary long-term suffering. Bipolar disorder distorts mood and thought patterns.

People with bipolar disorder experience dramatic mood swings, altering from extreme highs to extreme lows. These highs are called "mania" and these lows are called "depression". If you are experiencing frequent periods of mania altering with depression, with periods of normalcy in between, you may have bipolar disorder.

Mania: Mania is characterized by a period of intense activity and energy. During a manic episode, your become so euphoric that you experience racing thoughts, extreme restlessness, and are able to function on little or no sleep. Mania is not the same as feeling happy or excited. Mania is so extreme that you often become confused, disturbed, and frightened by your feelings. During a manic episode you may begin to talk very quickly and jump from one subject to another. You may wish to engage in dangerous and risky behavior, such as drug abuse, anonymous sex, and spending sprees. A person who is experiencing mania will often think they are capable of incredible things, such as controlling a country or performing magical feats. In order to be diagnosed as having a manic episode, you need to exhibit at least three of these symptoms continuously, for one week.

Hypomania is a type of mania that is much milder and will probably be quite enjoyable for the person going through it. However, it is equally as dangerous as manic episodes and can lead to a type of bipolar disorder.

Depression: Episodes of depression will involve intense sadness and feelings of hopelessness and despair. You may experience a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, and a change in sleep habits and appetite. Depression is often accompanied by thoughts of death or suicide, or actual suicide attempts. In order to be diagnosed as having a depressive episode, you must experience at least five symptoms continuously for two weeks.

Psychosis: Bipolar disorder is often accompanied by psychosis, during which you may hallucinate or experience strange delusions. You may hear voices or see people that aren't there. You may feel like someone is watching you or following you. If you are experiencing psychosis, it is important to seek immediate treatment.

Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are a number of specific types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder diagnosis can be difficult, but it is important to be diagnosed with one specific type in order to get proper treatment.

Bipolar I Disorder: This is the classic form of bipolar disorder and features recurrent episodes of mania and depression. You will experience periods of normal mood and activity in between your manic and depressive episodes.

Bipolar II Disorder: This form of bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of hypomania alternating with depression. You will probably have normal periods in between these episodes.

Cyclothymic Disorder: This form of the illness is much milder, and is usually a precursor to a more serious form. It usually lasts about two years, and episodes of mania and depression typically last two months.

Mixed Bipolar: If you have mixed bipolar disorder, you experience mania and depression mixed together. You may have feelings of extreme hopelessness but feel energized and active at the same time.

Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder: Rapid cycling bipolar disorder affects at least 15% of sufferers. Signs of rapid cycling bipolar disorder include very frequent episodes of mania and depression. In order to be diagnosed with this particular type of disorder, you must experience 4 or more episodes within 12 months.

Differences Between Bipolar Disorder and Other Mood Disorders
Bipolar mood disorder is often confused with other mood and personality disorders, causing bipolar disorder to frequently be misdiagnosed. In particular, bipolar disorder is often mistaken for schizophrenia because of the presence of psychotic episodes. However, schizophrenics will experience delusions and hallucinations that are separate from fluctuations in mood. Instances of psychosis in bipolar disorder are always triggered by mood fluctuations.

Bipolar disorder was once thought related to major depression. Though depression does feature heavily in bipolar disorder, people suffering from major depression will not have episodes of mania.

If you think you may have bipolar disorder, it is important to seek treatment.

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