Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes a person to oscillate emotionally between extreme highs and extreme lows. Also known as manic-depressive disorder, the condition results in severe symptoms that can negatively impact quality of life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), these shifts in mood, energy and activity levels are severe and unusual. During manic states, a person may feel happy, excited or jumpy. This can translate to impulsivity, restlessness or feeling distracted. A person in this state may talk fast, have racing thoughts, struggle with sleeping or engage in risky behaviors. On the other extreme, a depressive state is associated with feeling extremely down. This can lead to loss of appetite, poor concentration and even suicidal thoughts. The person may lose interest in sex and feel an overwhelming sense of fatigue. It’s important to remember that not all people with bipolar disorder experience such extreme mood swings. For some, the condition begins with what’s called hypomania, which is less severe. However, if left untreated, this can develop into extreme depression.

Who is at risk for Bipolar disorder?

According to the NIMH, roughly 2.6 million adults in the U.S. suffer from bipolar disorder. An exact cause is unclear at this point. However, having a family history of the disease (especially a first-degree relative) appears to raise the risk. Experts speculate that environmental factors and/or hormones may play a part, as well. The NIMH reports that the brain structure of people with bipolar disorder is different from those without it. Treating bipolar disorder aims to help stabilize mood changes.

Treatment

There is no cure at this point, but treatment options can make the symptoms more manageable. Medications like mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics or antidepressants are often prescribed. Psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and family therapy, can be effective as well. According to the NIMH, electroconvulsive therapy is an option for some.

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