Bipolar disorder, often referred to as manic-depression in the general literature, is a psychiatric condition defined by periods of extreme mood. These moods can occur on a spectrum ranging from debilitating depression to unbridled mania. Individuals suffering a bipolar disorder generally experience fluid states of mania, hypomania or what is referred to as a mixed states in concert with clinical depression. These clinical states typically alternate with a normal range of mood, which is termed euthymia. Bipolar disorder can range in severity from a mild annoyance to a serious lifelong disability.
There are many variations of this disorder. A person with bipolar disorder generally tends to experience more extreme states of mood than other people, even within the context of what might be considered "normal". Moods can change quickly (many times a day) or last for months. In psychiatric terms, this is called fast cycling or slow cycling, respectively. Bipolar individuals tend to have very "black and white" thinking, where everything in life is either a positive aspect or a negative. Mood patterns of this nature are associated with distress and disruption, and a relatively high risk of suicide.
Bipolar disorder is usually treated with medication and counseling.
Signs and symptoms
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), USA, "Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings—from overly "high" and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression."
NIMH has identified the following signs and symptoms of mania:
- Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
- Excessively "high," overly good, euphoric mood
- Extreme irritability
- Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
- Distractibility, can't concentrate well
- Little sleep needed
- Unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers
- Poor judgment
- Spending sprees
- A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
- Increased sexual drive
- Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
- Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
- Denial that anything is wrong
The signs and symptoms of depression identified by NIMH are:
- Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
- Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or of being "slowed down"
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Restlessness or irritability
- Sleeping too much, or can't sleep
- Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
- Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
Scientists and researchers agree that there is no single cause for bipolar disorder rather a number of causes aggravate and/or produce bipolar disorder.
- Many a time bipolar disorder run into families prompting scientists to believe that bipolar disorder may arise on account of specific genes, "the microscopic 'building blocks' of DNA inside all cells that influence how the body and mind work and grow—passed down through generations that may increase a person's chance of developing the illness". However, there are probably many other reasons apart from genes that may cause bipolar disorder. Studies of identical twins having similar genes don't always display same bipolar disorders.
- Further, findings indicate that bipolar disorder is not caused by a single gene or a single genetic-hereditary factor - it appears that many genes play role with combination other factors like the environment that cause bipolar disorder. In fact, identifying exactly these genes, each contributing a little to bipolar disorder is very difficult. In addition, findings from gene research suggest that bipolar disorder, like other mental illnesses, does not occur because of a single gene. However, advanced tools and methodologies are being used that is expected to result into new discoveries and better treatment.
- Brain-imaging techniques are also helping scientists to understand what goes wrong in the brain to produce bipolar disorder. New brain imaging techniques like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) allow the researchers to watch the activities inside the brain without any surgery. Indications are that the brains of persons with bipolar disorder differ with the normal persons. As understanding gets refined and fine tuned, better understanding of the causes and better treatments will result.