What is Bipolar Disorder?
Previously known as Manic-Depression, Bipolar Disorder is a long-term brain disorder that affects about 2.6% of the population. It typically causes major mood swings that can range from feeling completely high and on top of the world to severe, crippling depression. These highs and lows are known as manic and depressive episodes and are accompanied by changes in energy and behavior. Bipolar disorder is treatable with long-term preventative medication and psychosocial treatment, and many with this illness lead normal and active lives. Symptoms typically begin in late adolescence and early adulthood but can also begin in childhood and late adulthood. Early diagnosis of bipolar disorder is important because the highest risk of suicide occurs in the initial years of onset. If you or someone you know is suicidal, call a doctor, the emergency room, or 911 immediately.
A manic episode is diagnosed if elevated mood occurs for one week or more with at least four of these symptoms lasting most of the day, nearly everyday for a week or more:
* increased energy, restlessness, little need for sleep
* feelings of euphoria, extreme optimism, inflated self-esteem
* extreme irritability, denial that there is anything wrong
* racing thoughts, easily distracted, talking very fast, flight of ideas
* spending sprees, poor judgment, increased sexual drive, provocative behavior
* unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers
* seeing, hearing, sensing something not really there
* false, strongly held illogical beliefs
A depressive episode is diagnosed if five or more of these symptoms persist for most of the day, nearly everyday, for a period of two weeks or more:
* lasting sad, anxious, empty mood
* feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, pessimism, worthlessness
* decreased energy, fatigue, loss of interest in daily activities
* disturbances in sleep and appetite
* difficulty concentrating, making decisions, remembering things
* thoughts of death or suicide
Hypomania is a milder manic episode with similar but less severe symptoms and impairment. The individual may experience elevated mood, feel better than usual, and be more productive. These episodes often feel good and the desire to experience hypomania may cause some to stop medication which in turn can lead to a full-blown manic episode or a crash to depression.
Perhaps the most disabling episodes are those that involve symptoms of both mania and depression occurring at the same time or alternating frequently during the day. One may feel excited or agitated as in mania, but also depressed or irritable as in depression.