People with bipolar disorder experience intense changes in their moods, behaviors, activity, and energy levels. Receiving a bipolar diagnosis can be challenging for many. In this Forbes article, Mindpath Health’s Jasmine Kaur, MD, discusses bipolar disorder, its symptoms, causes, and treatment.
People with bipolar disorder experience intense changes in their moods, behaviors and activity and energy levels. While there are effective treatments available, including medications and therapies, receiving a bipolar diagnosis can be challenging for many. Because the disorder shares some overlapping symptoms with other mental health conditions like schizophrenia and major depressive disorder, it can take years before a proper diagnosis is made.
What Is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition characterized by severe mood swings that are significant enough to impair daily life. The disorder affects an estimated 5.7 million U.S. adults.
Once referred to as manic depression or manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder causes episodes of mania, hypomania, and sometimes, depression. There are two types of bipolar disorder, bipolar 1 and bipolar 2, says Jasmine Kaur, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health.
Bipolar 1: Individuals with bipolar 1 disorder have experienced at least one manic episode in their lifetime (that is not due to the effects of medication, substances or medical issues). Dr. Kaur defines a manic episode as a period of “either euphoric or highly irritable mood” that persists for at least seven days.
Bipolar 2: Individuals with bipolar 2 disorder have experienced at least one depressive episode and one hypomanic episode in their lifetime. Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes, says Dr. Kaur.
Hypomanic symptoms have to last for four days to be diagnosed, and can also include irritable or expansive mood, but usually does not involve paranoid or delusional thinking. The depressive component of bipolar 2 is defined as a depressed mood for at least two weeks, and may include symptoms such as persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, changes in appetite and sleep, insomnia and thoughts of suicide.
Causes of bipolar disorder
Genetics: There is a genetic component to bipolar disorder. If an individual has one first-degree relative with bipolar disorder, studies suggest a 15% to 30% lifetime risk of developing bipolar affective disorder, a percentage that increases to 75% for those with two first-degree relatives with the disorder.
Trauma: Experiencing severe stress or traumatic events in childhood may increase the chances of an individual developing bipolar disorder later in life. These events might include losing a parent or caregiver or experiencing abuse or neglect.
Brain formation: Research suggests that people with bipolar disorder may have slight, though key, differences in how their brains are structured. These changes may increase their risk for the condition.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder
To diagnose bipolar disorder 1, clinicians conduct a full medical exam, complete a medical history, rule out underlying physical illnesses and look for symptoms of a mood episode as part of a mental health evaluation. These symptoms may include:
Manic or hypomanic episodes, which includes some or all of the following symptoms to varying degrees of severity:
- Inflated self esteem
- Feelings of euphoria
- Feeling restless or unusually active
- Racing thoughts and fast talking
- Engaging in high-risk, reckless behaviors
Depressive episodes, defined by:
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Feelings of isolation
- Trouble focusing or forgetfulness
- Losing interest in usual activities
- Thoughts of suicide
Treatments for bipolar disorder
While treatment plans vary from person to person, they typically include medications—such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and antidepressants—and psychotherapy. To treat mild and moderate symptoms of bipolar disorder, patients may be seen in an outpatient facility or doctor’s office, Kaur adds.
When to see a doctor
If you’re experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder like intense mood swings or manic episodes, reach out to your health care provider. While only a qualified mental health professional can make a diagnosis, your general practitioner can offer you a referral for the services you need—and rule out underlying conditions that may be causing your symptoms, adds Dr. Kaur.
Read the full Forbes article with sources.