What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression or manic depressive disorder, is a psychiatric condition in which a person fluctuates between periods of being in a very good mood and periods of being in a very irritable and depressed mood. These “mood swings” between states of extreme activity or high spirits (mania) and depressive states can occur quite suddenly. There can also be periods of milder mania, known as hypomania. Individuals with bipolar disorder can also experience “mixed state” episodes, in which they feel both mania and depression simultaneously. In between these mood swings, there are often periods of being in a “normal” mood-state, but for some, rapid cycling occurs, which means that they rapidly swing back and forth between mania and depression, with few or no “normal” periods. The onset of bipolar disorder symptoms usually presents itself in late adolescence or young adulthood. These symptoms can sometimes emerge in childhood, however, in a condition known as pediatric bipolar disorder.
How can you tell if you or a loved one is suffering from bipolar disorder?
The symptoms of bipolar disorder are very similar in both adults and children. In order to recognize the possibility of bipolar disorder in yourself or a loved one, you need to understand the symptoms of both manic episodes and depressive episodes.
Manic episodes feature either an elevated mood or a very irritable mood which lasts for at least a week, and is accompanied by at least three of these symptoms:
- Very rapid speech, and talking more than normal
- Taking more risks than usual, being more impulsive, and exhibiting inappropriate talk or behavior toward sex or spending
- Sleeping very little
- Short attention span
- Inflated ego – feeling more powerful and important than usual
- Intent focus on a goal, to the point of obsession
- Racing thoughts
The symptoms of a depressive episode include being in a depressed mood, or loss of interest in activities that the person usually enjoys. This low mood is accompanied by at least four of the following symptoms, experienced on a daily basis, for at least fourteen days:
- Loss of energy, fatigue
- Feeling hopeless, extremely pessimistic
- Loss of concentration
- Feeling “slowed down,” or irritable and restless
- Feelings of guilt and/or worthlessness
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Extreme weight loss or weight gain
- Suicidal thoughts, or thoughts of dying
Adults typically have more mixed episodes, and slower changes between mania and depressive moods. Young people and children typically cycle faster between moods and have fewer mixed periods.
How can I be tested for bipolar disorder?
Currently, there are no brain imagery tests which can diagnose bipolar disorder; however, brain imaging is being used to learn what occurs in the brain of someone with the condition. Since the symptoms of this disorder can so closely resemble those of other conditions, it is vital that you or your loved one is examined by a psychiatrist or therapist who is qualified to do so. The doctor will ask questions about sleeping habits, eating habits, moods, behavior, and other things. He or she may also conduct tests to make sure that there is not another medical reason for the symptoms before diagnosing a patient with bipolar disorder. Family history of psychiatric illnesses will be considered, as will the patient’s complete history of symptoms.
Can bipolar disorder be inherited?
While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, it is thought to be caused by chemical changes or imbalances in the brain. Bipolar disorder often runs in families, with children who have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder being four- to six-times more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than children who have no family history of bipolar disorder. It is also suspected that these chemical changes or imbalances are genetic, and can thus be inherited. Bipolar disorder is not, however, contagious.
This blog is written and published by Lindner Center of HOPE.