Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods and changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior.
People who have bipolar disorder can have periods in which they feel overly happy and energized and other periods of feeling very sad, hopeless, and sluggish. In between those periods, they usually feel normal. You can think of the highs and the lows as two "poles" of mood, which is why it's called "bipolar" disorder.
The word "manic" describes the times when someone with bipolar disorder feels overly excited and confident. These feelings can also involve irritability and impulsive or reckless decision-making. About half of people during mania can also have delusions (believing things that aren't true and that they can't be talked out of) or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there).
"Hypomania" describes milder symptoms of mania, in which someone does not have delusions or hallucinations, and their high symptoms do not interfere with their everyday life.
The word "depressive" describes the times when the person feels very sad or depressed. Those symptoms are the same as those described in major depressive disorder or "clinical depression," a condition in which someone never has manic or hypomanic episodes.
Most people with bipolar disorder spend more time with depressive symptoms than manic or hypomanic symptoms.
In bipolar disorder, the dramatic episodes of high and low moods do not follow a set pattern. Someone may feel the same mood state (depressed or manic) several times before switching to the opposite mood. These episodes can happen over a period of weeks, months, and sometimes even years.
How severe it gets differs from person to person and can also change over time, becoming more or less severe.
Symptoms of mania ("the highs"):
- Excessive happiness, hopefulness, and excitement
- Sudden changes from being joyful to being irritable, angry, and hostile
- Rapid speech and poor concentration
- Increased energy and less need for sleep
- Unusually high sex drive
- Making grand and unrealistic plans
- Showing poor judgment
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Becoming more impulsive
- During depressive periods ("the lows"), a person with bipolar disorder may have:
- Loss of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Not enjoying things they once liked
- Trouble concentrating
- Uncontrollable crying
- Trouble making decisions
- Needing more sleep
- Appetite changes that make them lose or gain weight
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Attempting suicide
Bipolar disorder is not a condition that you can necessarily prevent. You cannot control your genetics, and you cannot control many negative situations that occur in your life. The best preventative measure is to stay informed and catch symptoms early before they become worse. Know whether mood disorders run in your family, and listen to your friends and family if they point out any irrational changes in your behavior.
Be honest with your doctor, and stay on top of your annual physical exams. Usually, your doctor will ask you a series of questions about your social relationships and your life. Your answers will help identify any problems before they can become worse.
Catching the condition early is important because you will understand why you are behaving a particular way. If left unmonitored, bipolar disorder can cause serious harm to your personal and professional life. Many bipolar patients are at high risk for suicide and violent behavior.
It is important for people to get enough sleep. Melatonin levels and sleeping patterns are related to mood swings and fluctuating depressive episodes. Monitor your sleeping patterns to ensure that you are sleeping enough every day.
There is no such thing as a "bipolar diet." In any case, it is important to maintain a pattern of healthy eating, since certain foods can exacerbate anxiety, poor health, and depression. Avoid red meats, saturated fats, trans fats, and simple carbohydrates. Make sure that you are getting enough nutrition and exercise so that you maintain balance in your life.
Bipolar disorder treatments vary according to the symptoms and the condition's severity. Lithium is a mood stabilizer used to treat the manic phase. Doctors will also prescribe antidepressants to treat symptoms of depression.
A person who experiences delusions may need to be hospitalized. While hospitalized, a patient might receive a course of anti-anxiety drugs. The doctor will discharge the patient to return home once the symptoms are under control.
Electroconvulsive therapy is a treatment method that induces small seizures through electrical currents. Patients are typically under general anesthesia for this procedure.
Many patients experience success through support networks and groups. By interacting with peers and discussing common problems, patients, friends, and family are able to cope with the consequences of bipolar disorder. Your doctor should be able to help you find the right support group.