Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic depression, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day to day tasks. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can damage relationships, create poor job or school performance, and, at its worst, cause a person to commit suicide. The good news is that there is effective treatment for the illness that can vastly improve quality of life. With the appropriate care, people with bipolar disorder live full and productive lives.
There are many factors that work together that can trigger bipolar disorder. Scientists continue to study the chemistry and biology behind this complex illness. What they know is that people with bipolar disorder tend to have other relatives with the same illness. In fact, some studies show that parents with bipolar are more likely to produce children with this same mental illness.
The brain structure of a person with bipolar disorder is also different from that of a normal brain. Specifically, the prefrontal cortex has been found to be smaller in a person afflicted with the illness. The prefrontal cortex develops during the teen years, which is why bipolar disorder typically emerges around that time.
Scientists are working to better predict and identify people with predispositions to the illness. Being able to identify bipolar disorder clearly will help sharpen treatments and make them more effective, faster.
Signs & Symptoms
Extreme mood swings, or “episodes,” are the first sign that someone you love might be suffering from bipolar disorder. These are not typical mood swings, but pronounced, dramatic episodes that are hard to miss. There are three types of episodes – manic, depressive and mixed.
The mood changes during a manic episode include long periods of feeling “high” and overly happy along with being extremely irritable. A person’s behavior can also change. Racing thoughts will lead to fast talking for someone suffering from a manic state. These people are also easily distracted, overly restless, and not sleeping well. They tend to take on new and lofty projects, and participate in impulsive and high risk behavior.
When someone with bipolar is in a depressive state they can experience long periods of hopelessness and sadness. In addition, they will show little to no interest in activities they used to enjoy.
Behavioral changes during depressive episodes include feeling tired, restless and irritable. There are often problems recalling information. You might also notice that this person has changed his eating and sleeping habits. Suicidal thoughts are also present during these episodes.
Some people with bipolar disorder have less extreme mood swings. These are still noticeable to their loved ones but they are not nearly as severe as the manic and depressive states talked about above. These still need to be caught early and treated. Left untreated, this hypomanic state can lead to severe mania or depression.
Some patients who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder have hallucinations and delusions. They are typically diagnosed with schizophrenia as well.
Who is at Risk?
Bipolar disorder usually develops in the late teen years or early 20’s. At least half of all cases begin in people less than 25 years of age.
There is no cure for bipolar disorder but it can be managed well with routine care and daily medication. Life-long, continuous treatment can give people living with this disorder a normal and productive life.
An effective maintenance plan for someone with bipolar disorder typically consists of medication and psychotherapy. When it comes to medication, it may take a bit of time to find the right one and to be prescribed the right dose. If a client is able to chart his daily life it can help the doctor better track and treat the illness. By keeping tabs on daily mood symptoms, treatments, sleep patterns and life events, a doctor can effectively tell if what he has prescribed is working well. If it’s not working well, the doctor can adjust the treatment plan.
Mood stabilizers are usually the first choice of treatment. Lithium and anticonvulsants are known to work well to address all mood swing types. Atypical antipsychotics are often taken with other meds to control the manic mood swings. Antidepressants are sometimes combined with other medications to control the depressive mood swings. However, taking antidepressants can lead to an increased risk of switching to a manic state. Doctors usually require the client take a mood-stabilizer with this medication. All of these medications can have serious physical side effects, so it’s important that while on these medications clients are closely monitored by a doctor.
Psychotherapy can also be an effective treatment when it is combined with medication. This can provide support not only to the client but to their family as well. There are several types of psychotherapy to consider:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This can help change harmful behavior and negative thought patterns.
Family-Focused Therapy – This can enhance coping strategies while improving communication and the family’s ability to problem solve.
Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy – This can help a client improve their relationships with others and learn to manage daily routines.
Psycho-education – This teaches clients about their illness and treatment. It can also help a client recognize signs that they need to seek immediate treatment. This type of therapy is usually done in a group because it is also helpful for family and caregivers.
If you suspect that you or a loved one are suffering from bipolar disorder call Horizon at (434) 477-5000.