Bipolar Disorder: Meaning, Symptoms, Medications, & More
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder is a group of disorders affecting mood. Many people may know bipolar disorder as "manic-depression." Manic-depression is just another name for bipolar disorder.
People with bipolar disorder alternate between normal mood (euthymia), depression, and mania. We will delve into the symptoms of depression and mania shortly.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is thought to be largely an inherited disorder, meaning that if you have a first-degree relative, like a parent or sibling, with bipolar disorder, your chances of developing the disorder are much higher.
Researchers who study bipolar disorder believe that often there is a triggering event for the first episode of mania or depression and without that triggering event, a person may have a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder throughout his/her life, but never actually have an episode of mania or depression.
Also involved in bipolar disorder are the brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) serotonin and norepinephrine.
Symptoms of Depression
The symptoms of depression can include any combination of the following:
- increased or decreased sleep
- suicidal thoughts or gestures
- increased or decreased appetite
- decreased energy (anergia)
- decreased motivation (avolition)
- decreased involvement in pleasurable life activities (anhedonia)
- decreased libido
- slowed motor responses (psychomotor retardation)
- inner restlessness or fidgety behaviors
- increased sighing
- monotone voice
- lack of facial expression (flattened, blunted, or restricted affect)
- waking up early in the morning and not being able to fall back asleep
- feelings of worthlessness
- feelings of guilt (e.g. "I deserve to feel this way.")
- difficulty concentrating
- hallucinations (seeing things that aren't there; hearing things that no one else hears; feeling sensations on your body when nothing is causing them; smelling things that no one else smells; tasting things for no reason)
- delusions (believing something to be true that definitely is not)
Keep in mind that one does not have to have all of the symptoms for a diagnosis of depression to be made. Many people will only have a few of the symptoms listed above.
Symptoms of Mania
The symptoms of mania can include any combination of the following:
- inflated self-esteem (grandiosity)
- feeling excessively happy for no reason
- racing thoughts, mind won't "turn off"
- arguing with strangers, picking fights
- increased motor behavior (moving around a lot, not able to sit still)
- beginning many projects, but not finishing any of them
- increased libido
- high degrees of risky behavior (e.g. driving too fast, promiscuous sex with strangers, etc.)
- increased gambling
- increased shopping
- giving away money or possessions
- decreased need for sleep
- decreased appetite or forgetting to eat
- talking really fast (pressured speech)
- rhyming words or phrases (clang association)
- connecting ideas that do not seem associated with each other (loose associations)
- delusions (often grandiose in nature, like believing one is God)
As with depression, keep in mind that one does not have to have all of the symptoms listed. They may occur in different combinations.
Course of Bipolar Illness
Bipolar disorder manifests differently from person to person. Some people will have many episodes of mania and depression on a regular basis (called rapid cycling), while others may go years without an episode.
Research does suggest, however, that the more episodes a person has, the more he/she will have in the future. That is why it is so important for a person with bipolar disorder to have the disorder treated effectively by a trained professional. A combination of medications and psychotherapy usually is the best approach.
Medications for Bipolar Disorder
There are many medications available for the treatment of bipolar disorder. Most often, these medications are termed "mood stabilizers," but they can include medications from any of the following categories:
- Antiepileptics (seizure medications): e.g. Lamictal, Tegretol, Depakote
- Standard antipsychotics: e.g. Haldol, Thorazine
- Atypical antipsychotics: e.g. Risperdal, Abilify
Many people with bipolar disorder may need to try several different medications or combinations of medications before they find the right "fit" for them. All of the medications have side effects. It is important that a person find a medication that works to treat the illness, but does not cause unbearable side effects.
Other Treatments for Bipolar Disorder
In addition to medications, there are other treatments available for bipolar disorder. These include:
- Electroconvulsive therapy
- Alternative or complementary medicine
If you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, inpatient hospitalization may be required or helpful at some point. Read my article on Life Inside a Mental Hospital to know what to expect if this happens.
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© 2012 Leah Wells-Marshburn