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Things You Need to Know About Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition, characterized by extreme mood swings. It was formerly called manic depressive disorder. A person suffering from this condition has mood changes that range between highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). During times of depression, a person may feel low and sad, losing interest in most of the daily activities. The opposite effect is seen when the mood changes to mania or hypomania (less severe than mania). The person may exhibit euphoria, with high energy levels or may be irritable. In such a condition, the individual shows a reduced need for sleep, may exhibit reckless behaviour like overspending and loses the ability to think rationally.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is classified into the following types:

  • Bipolar I Disorder: This type is characterized by at least one episode of mania that may be preceded or followed by a hypomanic episode or major depressive episodes. There are patients who may have symptoms of psychosis as well. (losing touch with reality).
  • Bipolar II Disorder: This type is marked by at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode. Extreme mania is not seen.
  • Cyclothymia: It is characterized by mixed episodes of hypomania and depression. The severity of depression or mania in cyclothymia is less than bipolar I or II. Most of the people having this condition show no mood changes for a period of 1 or 2 months.

It should be noted that Bipolar II is not a milder form of Bipolar I but has a different diagnosis altogether. While a person with bipolar I shows extremely violent and dangerous behavior, bipolar II is also debilitating as the person suffering from it loses interest in all pleasurable activities.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

Although the main cause of bipolar disorder is still not known, there are several factors contributing to it.

  • Genetic factor: Bipolar disorder is commonly seen people having first-order relative with the same condition, for example a parent or sibling. Although genes linked with the condition have not been identified, there is indication that bipolar disorder is heritable.
  • Biological factor: It is seen that people suffering from bipolar disorder undergo certain physical changes in their brain. The significance of these changes in causing the disorder is still unknown.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

As bipolar disorder is marked by extreme mood swings, the symptoms vary according to the phase.

Mania and hypomania: Although these are two distinct types of episodes, they show similarity in symptoms. Mania is a more severe form of the two and may require hospitalization if the person loses touch with reality (psychosis). Some of the symptoms shown by a person in this mental state are:

  • Abnormally energetic and upbeat
  • Euphoria (exaggerated self-confidence)
  • Talkativeness
  • Increased activity and agitation
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Racing thoughts
  • Poor judgment (spending sprees and promiscuous behavior)

Major depression: A person who is depressed feels unusually low, sad and loses interest in all pleasurable activities. The symptoms include:

  • Feelings of sadness, helplessness and prone to crying spells
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Significant weight loss or gain due to decreased or increased appetite, respectively
  • Either insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of fatigue
  • Suicidal tendencies

Diagnosis for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is generally seen in early childhood or in 20s. Children with bipolar disorder also show signs of having other mental health conditions like ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) or depression. The right diagnosis will help your doctor provide with the correct, most effective treatment that can reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

Although bipolar disorder cannot be completely cured, it can be managed well with the right medication, lifestyle modifications, and counseling sessions. Medications may include mood stabilizers like lithium, antipsychotic drugs like olanzapine, or benzodiazepines, type of anti-anxiety drug used for short-term treatment.

Prevention of Bipolar Disorder

There is no way to prevent bipolar disorder but getting the right treatment during the initial stages itself can go a long way in helping one lead a normal life. If diagnosed with the disorder, early treatment can prevent minor symptoms from becoming major episodes.

  • Look for early warning signs
  • Take your medications regularly as prescribed
  • Avoid the use of drugs or alcohol
  • Ensure adequate sleep

Risks & Complications related to Bipolar Disorder

There are certain factors that can act as a trigger for the onset of bipolar disorder in a person.

  • Having a first-degree blood relation like parent or sibling, suffering from this disorder
  • Periods of extreme stress, for example, death of a loved one
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

If left untreated, bipolar disorder can lead to complications like:

  • Suicidal tendencies and attempts
  • Financial instability
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Failed relationships like marriage
  • Poor school or work performance

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between depression and bipolar disorder?

The main difference between clinical depression and bipolar disorder lies in the presence of manic episodes. Depression alone cannot be considered to diagnose an individual with bipolar disorder. However, one manic episode is enough to make the diagnosis.

Is bipolar disorder dangerous?

People with bipolar disorder showing mania may indulge in reckless behavior such as unsafe sex and drug abuse. Such people often lose their sense of judgment and may end up overspending which leads to bankruptcy. During a depressive episode, an individual might have suicidal tendencies and may try to harm oneself.

Is bipolar disorder curable?

Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, a person can lead a productive life by taking the right combination of mood stabilizers and other drugs and going for behavior therapy and counseling sessions.

Is bipolar disorder heritable?

Bipolar disorder is heritable. Having a first-degree blood relative like a parent or sibling, suffering from this disorder will increase your chances of developing bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and posy-partum depression.

Gleneagles Global Health City is one of the best hospitals for lifestyle-based management of diseases in Chennai. Request an appointment now with one of the best psychiatrists in Chennai.

Dr Siddhika Ayyer
Dr Siddhika Ayyer
MBBS, DPM, DNM (Psychiatry)
Visiting Consultant
Department of Psychiatry

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