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Understanding Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms, causes and treatment

Dr. Ajay KohliOct 14, 2022

Bipolar Disorder or Manic-depressive Illness can have an enormous impact on the patient’s quality of life. This condition is usually seen in early or late adolescence and requires lifelong treatment. Read ahead to get an overview of this disease so that you can seek timely measures.

Bipolar Disorder

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What is Bipolar Disorder? 

Bipolar Disorder is a mental disorder characterised by extreme shifts in a person’s mood, behaviour, energy levels and ability to perform day-to-day activities. People with this disorder experience episodes of intense emotional and psychological states. Sometimes they feel abnormally happy, super-energetic or hyperirritable (mania) and sometimes they are depressed (depression). These episodes may last from days to weeks. 

Signs and symptoms of Bipolar Mood Disorder 

People with Bipolar Disorder experience tremendous variations in mood and energy levels, which is well reflected in their behaviour. The behaviour of the person during the mood episodes (manic or depressive) is quite different from the typical behaviour of the person. Bipolar Mood Disorder’s symptoms during the different mood episodes are as follows.

1. Manic episode symptoms 

  1. Feeling overjoyed or elated 

  2. Feeling very energetic 

  3. Talking fast

  4. Very distracted 

  5. Having a lot of innovative ideas and plans 

  6. Do not want to eat or rest

  7. Reckless behaviour and poor judgement. For example, spending a large sum of money. 

  8. Feeling extremely important and/or powerful

Some people also experience hypomania or milder manic episodes. In this phase, a person feels good and productive. They function well socially too. Hypomania episodes are usually followed by depression.

2. Depressive episode symptoms

  1. Feeling low, sad, and hopeless

  2. Having issues with concentration and decision making

  3. Having no interest in day-to-day activities

  4. Having guilt and feeling worthless

  5. Being pessimistic and having self-doubt 

  6. Do not want to eat or rest

  7. Suicidal ideation

3. Mixed episodes

Some people with Bipolar Disorders experience a mix of both manic and depressive symptoms. They may experience depressive feelings at the same time and feel agitated and restless. 

What Causes Bipolar Mood disorder?

The exact cause of bipolar mood disorder is not known yet. However, some theories have been proposed.

  1. Genetic inheritance: It has been seen that at least two-thirds of people with Bipolar Disorder have at least one biological relative with the same disorder. 

  2. Neurological changes: Imbalances in one or more neurotransmitters like noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine may contribute to Bipolar Mood Disorder. Scientists have also discovered some differences in the brain size and activation patterns of brain centres in normal people and people with Bipolar Mood Disorder symptoms. 

  3. Stress: Excessive stress can act as a trigger to Bipolar Mood Disorders. These triggers can be physical/emotional abuse, death of a loved one, sleep deprivation, physical illness or day-to-day problems related to work, relationships and money, which can become overwhelming. 

Types of Bipolar Mood Disorders.

Bipolar Disorder is of three types.

Bipolar I disorder: In this type, a person experiences a manic episode that lasts for at least 7 days. The manic symptoms are severe, and the person may need hospitalisation. These patients also experience depressive symptoms typically lasting for around 2 weeks. Episodes with a mix of both manic and depressive symptoms are also common in these patients. 

Bipolar II disorder: In this type, the person experiences depressive or hypomanic symptoms but no full-blown manic episodes (as seen in patients with bipolar I) 

Cyclothymic disorder: In this type, the person has periods of hypomania and depression, which lasts for at least 2 years. The symptoms are milder than bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. 

Treatment for Bipolar Mood Disorders

Bipolar Disorders can be helpful even for those with severe symptoms. These strategies do not cure the condition but can help people cope with it better. Management of Bipolar Mood Disorders often includes a combination of two or more of the following strategies.

  1. Medications: Medications for managing Bipolar Mood Disorder symptoms include mood stabilisers, anticonvulsants and antipsychotics.

  2. Talk therapy/psychotherapy: This involves a variety of techniques that help a person identify and modify thoughts and behaviours that affect them negatively. This therapy also provides guidance and knowledge to the person and the caregiver about Bipolar Disorders. 

  3. Lifestyle modifications: Measures like practising yoga and meditation, getting adequate sleep, doing regular exercise, and quitting drinking can provide additional benefits.

  4. Other treatments: Some patients with severe symptoms may require treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy, and transcranial stimulation to manage the symptoms. 

Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

If you experience severe mood or behavioural shifts, it is best to talk to your doctor. If your doctor thinks that you may have Bipolar Mood Disorder, they may refer you to a mental health specialist (psychiatrist). 

Your psychiatrist would do an in-depth mental health check to see if you have Bipolar Disorder. If the diagnosis is confirmed, the most suitable treatment for you would be planned according to your symptoms and their severity. 

Prevention of Bipolar Disorder

Unfortunately, science has found out a way to prevent Bipolar Disorder, as the cause of this disorder is unknown. If you experience signs of this condition, it is best to consult your doctor to initiate early treatment.

Risk factors of Bipolar Disorder

Studies suggest that Bipolar Disorder can have a genetic basis. Having a close relative (sibling/parent) with Bipolar Disorder may increase the risk of developing this illness. Extreme stress or drug and alcohol abuse can also trigger Bipolar Disorder episodes. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to Bipolar Disorder.

What is the prognosis of bipolar disorder?

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Bipolar Disorder has a poor prognosis if not treated well. Around 60% of patients with Bipolar Disorder resort to drug/alcohol dependence, and many of them commit suicide too. Treatment can help reduce the severity of symptoms of mania and depression to cope with the disease and lead a relatively normal life.

Does a patient with Bipolar Disorder need emergency treatment?

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A patient needs to be taken to the emergency department immediately if they experience any of the following symptoms.

  1. Suicidal thoughts

  2. Thoughts of harming others

  3. Hallucinations and delusions

Are Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder the same?

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Borderline Personality Disorder involves abrupt, time-to-time swings in mood and behaviour, which are often due to external situations like feuds with people. In Bipolar Disorder, the episodes of mania and depression are longer.

Are there any other disorders that usually coexist with Bipolar Disorder?

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It is common for people with Bipolar Disorder to have anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, drug/alcohol abuse and/or eating disorder. Regardless of any physical or mental health condition that you have, you must inform your doctor about it as it would impact your treatment plan.

How do I cope with Bipolar Disorder?

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Living with Bipolar Disorder can be tough. Here are a few tips to help you cope with it.

  1. Follow your medication plan as prescribed. Keep a medication log if necessary.

  2. Maintain a routine for eating, sleeping, exercising, household chores and leisure activities.

  3. Identify the changes in behaviour and moods and note them down.

  4. Avoid alcohol and drugs 

  5. Practice techniques like yoga and meditation, and engage in leisure activities that help reduce stress.

References 

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9294-bipolar-disorder#diagnosis-and-tests

  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder#part_2264

  3. https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/bipolar-disorders/what-are-bipolar-disorders

  4. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/bipolar-disorder/overview/

  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355955. Accessed on 15/ 9/2022

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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