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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a form of mental illness characterized by extreme mood changes from mania to depression. It is also known as manic depression. Mood swings are dramatic, and are much different that the normal ups and downs people typically go through.

Bipolar disorder usually develops before the age of 25 and affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Many people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed as suffering from depression. The reason for this is that a person who experiences these extreme mood changes is only likely to seek help when feeling depressed.

When patients are in the “manic” phase, they are energetic, talkative, restless, and euphoric. They experience racing thoughts and a decreased need for sleep. Many people with this disorder will try to cope with mania through drug or alcohol abuse and should seek drug treatment or alcohol rehabilitation if necessary. The “depressive” phase consists of lack of energy, hopelessness, and extreme sadness. Phases of mania or depression can last weeks, months, or years.

Sometimes a mood episode may include symptoms of both mania and depression. This is called a mixed state.

The cause of bipolar disorder hasn’t been identified. It is believed it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. A person whose parent has bipolar disorder has a 15-25% chance of developing the condition. It is primarily a biological disorder which involves the dysfunction of certain brain chemicals. A mood episode can be triggered by a life event, substance abuse, or hormonal problems.

A doctor can make a diagnosis only after carefully evaluating symptoms, including their length, severity, and frequency. The most identifiable symptom is extreme mood swings. But certain illnesses mimic the symptoms of bipolar disorder, including lupus, HIV, and syphilis. Other anxiety disorders are often present along with bipolar disorder, such generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is estimated that only a third of people suffering from bipolar disorder are properly diagnosed.

Bipolar phases

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Bipolar disorder can be treated, but should not be ignored. The symptoms will not go away, and will become worse if not treated. Severe depression can lead to thoughts of suicide, or suicide attempts. Extreme mania can lead to aggressiveness, or potentially dangerous risk-taking behavior.

This is a life-long condition that requires life-long treatment. Medications are a vital part of treatment, and may include mood stabilizers, anti-seizure medication, anti-depressants, and anti-psychotic medication. Doctors often will prescribe a combination of several medications, and may also recommend psychotherapy. Electroconvulsive therapy may be recommended for patients who are suicidal or who show no improvement after other types of treatment.

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