Bipolar Disorder Effects, Signs & Symptoms

Bipolar disorder, also called “manic-depression” is a mental illness that is characterized by extreme changes in mood ranging from depression to mania. Individuals suffering with this disorder experience intense emotions that are beyond the normal ups and downs of everyday life. Additionally, an individual will also experience unusual changes in energy levels, activity levels, and difficulty in carrying out tasks. During a depressive period the individual may feel hopeless, but during a manic phase that same person may feel like they are on top of the world. These severe changes in mood are so intense that it interferes with an individual’s ability to function.

Individuals who have bipolar disorder experience significant impairment in scholastic and occupational performance, abuse drugs or alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms, have trouble maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships, and fail to meet obligations at home.

Bipolar disorder often develops in the late teens or early years of adulthood with at least half of all cases beginning before the age of 25. As bipolar disorder is not always particularly easy to identify when it first begins – the symptoms may appear to be separate problems – so many individuals suffer unnecessarily with bipolar disorder before proper diagnosis and treatment. Much like liver disease, bipolar disorder is a chronic condition that must be treated in the long-term and managed throughout an individual’s life.

A mixed-state of bipolar disorder leads to both manic and depressive episodes occurring simultaneously. An individual experiencing a mixed state may feel agitated, energized, sad, hopeless, and suicidal. This is one of the major reasons that bipolar disorder must be carefully identified and managed.

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Individuals with bipolar I disorder experience episodes of mania causing an abnormally elevated and persistent mood and activity level. Bipolar I disorder is defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days. A depressive episode usually occurs as well typically lasting for about two weeks.

Bipolar II disorder is characterized by a pattern of depressive episodes that shift back and forth with hypomanic episodes. Hypomania is a milder form of mania, usually lasting only four consecutive days.

Cyclothymia is a related disorder in which an individual experiences chronic fluctuations in mood that involve both hypomanic and depression symptoms. Although similar to bipolar disorder the symptoms of cyclothymia are never severe enough to meet the criteria for full-blown manic or depressive episodes.

While symptoms of bipolar disorder do vary over an individual’s lifetime, the manic and depressive episodes do generally return, leading to significant problems in an individual’s ability to carry out activities of daily living. Between episodes of mania and depression, individuals with bipolar disorder may be free of symptoms. With proper treatment and lifetime supervision, bipolar disorder can be a manageable and livable mental illness despite the severity of symptoms.

Statistics

It is estimated that the prevalence rate for individuals suffering from bipolar I disorder is about 0.6%, while bipolar II disorder has a prevalence rate of 0.8%. The mean age of onset for the first manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode is around 18 years of age for bipolar I disorder and the mid-20s for bipolar II. Both genders have about the same prevalence rate with a male-to-female ratio of approximately 1.1:1. Cyclothymic disorder has a prevalence rate of 0.4%-1% for the general population and a prevalence rate of 3% to 5% in mood disorder clinics. This disorder is equally common among male and females, however more females present for treatment. Cyclothymic disorder typically begins in adolescents or early adulthood.

If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Co-Occurring disorders

The most common co-occurring disorders are:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Thyroid disease
  • Migraines
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • ADHD
  • Disruptive, impulse control, or conduct disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Alcoholism
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders

Causes

While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown research has suggested that it is likely a combination of a variety of factors. Some theories include:

Genetics: Research suggests that inherited traits may cause bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is more common in individuals who have family members, especially parents or siblings that suffer from the same disorder.

Brain Chemistry: Another theory suggests that an imbalance in hormones or neurotransmitters may cause the development of bipolar disorder. When there is an imbalance in hormones the brain does not function properly which can lead to fluctuations in moods. Additionally, individuals with bipolar disorder have been known to have physical differences in their brains, such as a smaller prefrontal cortex.

Signs and Symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. The signs and symptoms vary depending on the type of bipolar disorder an individual has. Symptoms include:

Manic episode symptoms:

  • Euphoria
  • Feeling “high”
  • Overly happy
  • Feeling jumpy or wired
  • Easily distracted
  • Rapid speech
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • More talkative than usual
  • Jumping from one topic to another during conversations
  • Increased goal-directed activities
  • Taking on many new projects without finishing the first
  • Unrealistic abilities in one’s abilities
  • Acting impulsively
  • High-risk behaviors
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Agitation or irritation

Hypomanic episode symptoms:

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • More talkative than usual
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Rapid speech
  • Risky behavior
  • Easily distracted
  • Agitation or irritation

Major depression episode symptoms:

  • Diminished interest in activities
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Sadness and hopelessness
  • Feeling “slowed down”
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Effects

Bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder can cause significant distress and impairment in an individual’s life. Some effects caused by these disorders are:

  • Cognitive impairments
  • Relationship problems
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Divorce
  • Legal problems
  • Financial problems
  • Consequences of risk-taking behaviors
  • Depression
  • Suicide
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