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Bipolar Disorder

Changes in energy and mood swings are a natural part of life, but if the ups and downs are unusually intense or prolonged, it may be a sign of bipolar disorder. Once known as “manic depression,” bipolar disorder affects approximately five percent of the general population and is characterized by extreme fluctuations in emotional state and energy levels. These opposite, “bipolar” states are known as mania and depression.

One of the most common symptoms of mania is the pursuit of highly gratifying and potentially harmful behaviors, including gambling, compulsive shopping, binge eating, and problematic sexual behaviors.

Types of Bipolar Disorders

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Bipolar disorder often goes undiagnosed until a depressive or a manic episode take a dramatic toll on the person’s life. People with bipolar disorder may simply be perceived as difficult, moody, irritable, or emotional, when they are in fact, expressing the symptoms of a serious mental health disorder. The emotional fluctuations of bipolar disorder make it difficult for people to keep jobs or stay in school, maintain relationships, achieve goals, and fulfill commitments.

Bipolar I

Individuals with Bipolar I alternate between episodes of mania and episodes of depression. On average, each episode lasts for seven days. The symptoms of manic episodes may be so severe that the person must be hospitalized for their safety and for the safety of others. The depressive episode that follows is also severe and affected individuals may feel as though they’ll never be happy or satisfied ever again. They may be unable to focus on work and they may lose interest in the things that once brought them joy. In some cases, they may consider suicide.

Bipolar II

Individuals with Bipolar II experience a less severe form of the mania that impacts people with Bipolar I. While the mania of Bipolar I causes behavior that could require hospitalization, the mania of Bipolar II is characteristically similar but not necessarily extreme to the point where the patient needs to be hospitalized. A Bipolar II sufferer in a manic episode may not experience impaired functioning. A person with Bipolar I in a manic episode however, can be disruptive or dangerous because they cannot control their impulses.

Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder

Approximately 20% of individuals with bipolar disorder experience the cycling of manic and depressive episodes at a much higher frequency. This is known as Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder, where a patient may experience the cycles of depression and mania four or more times within a single year, with a remission period as short as two months. The cycles themselves may be compressed into a few weeks or even days, and the individual may experience depressive and manic episodes back to back.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

As with most mental health disorders, bipolar disorder is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. The condition often runs in families, which indicates that it has a strong genetic component. Differences in the brain may account for some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Brain imaging shows that the prefrontal cortex, which controls higher functions like problem solving and decision making, operates differently in people with bipolar disorder. In addition, individuals with bipolar disorder often have lower levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which regulate mood, energy, and behavior.