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Bipolar Disorder: The Basics


One minute you're confident that you can conquer the world, the next moment you’re sobbing uncontrollably. 


Perhaps it’s not just a case of normal emotions.  It could be that you have bipolar disorder.  Formerly called manic 

depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by incredibly wide mood swings.  At one end of the pendulum is the mania – that feeling that you are capable of absolutely anything accompanied by a euphoric feeling. 


And you just don’t “feel” it, you absolutely know it. A person with bipolar disorder will, more often than not, act on this feeling, embarking on new adventures that very often either are out of his grasp, or are quickly abandoned as he experiences the down side of the bipolar syndrome.


Those in a manic episode are much more likely to act recklessly or take chances not normally characteristic of the person.  Aggressive behavior is a symptom of a manic episode, as is the inability to concentrate.


And the down side of the syndrome is the depression – agonizing lows where suicidal thoughts can creep in.  A person with bipolar experiencing a depressive episode very often has trouble with the daily functioning of his life.


Additionally, an individual in the depressive episode experiences disturbances in both his sleep patterns and appetite.  He may also have an apathetic attitude toward his daily routine along with unexplained fatigue.  Chronic unexplained pain is also a signal of the depressive episode of bipolar.


In fact, bipolar disorder can be classified into several categories depending on the severity of the symptoms.  Bipolar I disorder is the most severe, and involves mood swings with the widest of emotions separating them.  Bipolar II disorder is a milder form. The intensity of the manic and the depression are less stark.  Cyclothymic disorder represents the mildest of the three yet. 


There are still two more varieties of the disorder.  One is called mixed bipolar disorder in which the symptoms of the mania and the depression are present at the same time.  While the person experiences feelings that are clearly grandiose, underlying that energy is an irritable angry mood. 


The other is called rapid-cycling bipolar disorder and it’s exactly as the name implies. With this mental health problem, the episodes of mania and depression recur four or more times in a twelve-month period.  Some individuals, in fact, experience multiple episodes within a single week and some within a single day.


Usually these characteristics develop later in the course of the initial bipolar disorder and seldom emerge on their own overnight.  Women are more affected by rapid cycling bipolar disorder than men.  This particular kind of bipolar also places a person at an increased risk for severe depression as well as attempts at suicide.  Some professionals claim that the use of antidepressants actually trigger this rapid cycling as well as prolong its presence.


The individual episodes of bipolar – the highs and the lows – may last for several weeks or several months. These episodes cause a disturbance not only in the life of the individual afflicted, but also for the entire family.


Bipolar disorder is often diagnosed when an individual is between the ages of 18 to 22 years of age.  Increasingly, diagnosis of children younger than 18 is being recognized.  Medical specialists say that the younger the individual is when the disorder is diagnosed the more treatable it is.  Interestingly, those individuals who do not have this disorder diagnosed when the symptoms first appear are more likely to deal with the problem through alcohol and illegal drugs.

Bipolar Disorder: Causes and Treatments


That's the normal reaction of the person who is suffering with bipolar disorder.  Why do I have this problem?  Family members, too, question the cause.  Parents tend to blame themselves and siblings very often feel guilty for a variety of reasons.


The answer to that question is:  No one really knows.


Medical science has yet to uncover a reason why some people develop bipolar disorder.  It's believed, though, that a variety of biological, genetic and environmental factors seem to work together to trigger these episodes.


It appears that bipolar disorder may stem from chemical imbalances in neurotransmitters – the nerve cells in the brain.  In some cases, bipolar disorder is partially the result of a genetic disposition, but that's not so for every individual.


There are certain factors that raise a person's risk of developing the disorder. In almost up to 90 percent of the cases, it appears that there's a family history of depression – not necessarily of bipolar, however.


The majority of the time the illness abruptly appears with little warning.  Some experts say that it could be triggered by stress.  However, it is not unheard of that some individuals have developed this condition gradually.


Thankfully, even the most severe forms of bipolar are treatable. The characteristic mood swings can be stabilized and the other symptoms alleviated with continued treatment.  Usually this is done with a combination of medications and other therapies.


The acute episodes of the mania and depression are treated with medications commonly called mood stabilizers. Lithium is generally used for the manic episodes and appears to be very effective for most individuals. 


Lithium is not without side effects.  Those taking lithium may complain of nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, muscle weakness as well as fatigue.  Some individuals find they have an increased thirst.  Some even complain of being dazed and unusually sleepy.  As the dosage is increased some people notice a marked, but mild hand tremor.


Lithium is not a medication that should be taken lightly.  It's extremely important that the proper dose is provided.  It is possible to take toxic levels of this drug.  Symptoms of toxicity include vomiting, severe diarrhea as well as slurred speech, blurred vision, confusion, stupor and an irregular pulse.


Lithium is also a viable option for the depressive episodes of bipolar disorder as well.  In addition to this drug, antidepressants can be used even though there seems to be a bit of controversy with this class of medication.  Some experts claim that antidepressants, while working on the depressive episode only increase the intensity of the next manic episode.  However, lithium is still the only medication shown to reduce the rate of suicide among those individuals suffering with bipolar.



Note: Some statements in this article may not be approved by the FDA. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice.


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