Bipolar Disorder – What You Need to Know

While we often hear the term ‘bipolar disorder’ used in casual conversations about someone’s behavior, having a true understanding of the term is much more helpful and constructive in the effort to understand both the affliction and those who suffer from it. The following answers to frequently asked questions about bipolar disorder are meant to shed some light on a topic many find difficult to discuss.

What is bipolar disorder?

As defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

There are four basic types of bipolar disorder; all of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, and energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

  • Bipolar I Disorder – defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depression and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.
  • Bipolar II Disorder – defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes described above.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called Cyclothymia) – defined by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms as well numerous periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.
  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders – defined by bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match the three categories listed above.

Is bipolar disorder widespread in the United States?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, every year, 2.9% of the U.S. population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder with nearly 83% of cases being classified as severe. Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally.

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Those afflicted with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion – very high highs and very low lows. The highs are termed as ‘manic’ and the lows are termed as ‘depressive’. The sleep patterns and activity levels of those with bipolar disorder change as their moods fluctuate. They also exhibit unusual behaviors. These distinct periods of unusual behaviors are called “mood episodes.” They are characterized by extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep.

Some signs of bipolar disorder include:

  • Unpredictable mood swings
  • Inability to complete tasks
  • Changes in energy, activity and sleep
  • “Manic” (overly joyful) or “depressive” (extreme sad or hopeless state) episodes
  • Irritability

At what age is bipolar disorder typically diagnosed?

Bipolar disorder tends to run in families and often appears in the late teens or early adult years. At least half of all cases start before age 25. Some people have their first symptoms during childhood, while others may develop symptoms later in life.

How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

Even though bipolar disorder has very distinct symptoms there is no specific test for it. A number of tests and factors are used to make the diagnosis. First, a full medical exam is conducted, complete with blood and urine analyses to make certain that the symptoms are not being caused by another illness. Physicians also need to rule out symptoms as being side effects from any medications the patient may be taking. After these possible causes are ruled out, the patient is then referred to a mental health specialist for further testing.

Testing by a mental health specialist involves questions about symptoms and how they affect the patient’s life, along with questions about family medical history and any history of drug abuse. To arrive at an exact diagnosis, specialists review the information gathered against the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

What does treatment for bipolar disorder involve?

Treatment can be a combination of mood stabilizing medication and psychotherapy – offered both on an individual basis and via support groups.

If you, or someone you know, is suffering from any of the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder, get help today. Call the professionals at Advantage Mental Health Center at 727-600-8093 to schedule an appointment.