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Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. People who have bipolar disorder can have periods in which they feel overly happy, elated and energised (known as manic episodes) and other periods of feeling very sad, hopeless or sluggish (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

There are 4 basic types of bipolar disorder:
  • Bipolar I Disorder - defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks.
  • Bipolar II Disorder - defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic symptoms.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called cyclothymia) - defined by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms and numerous periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.
  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders - defined by bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match the three categories listed above.

People having a manic episode may:

  • Be more agitated, irritable, or “touchy”
  • Engage in more risky behaviours, such as spending a lot of money or have reckless sex
  • Feel very “up,” “high,” or elated
  • Have a lot of energy and less need for sleep
  • Have increased activity levels and restlessness
  • Make grand and unrealistic plans
  • Show poor judgment and reckless decision-making
  • Talk really fast about a lot of different things
People having a depressive episode may:
  • Feel like they can’t enjoy things they once liked
  • Feel irritable
  • Feel tired or “slowed down”
  • Feel very sad, worthless or hopeless
  • Have decreased activity levels
  • Have thoughts about death or suicide
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Have trouble sleeping, or sleep too much
  • Have unusual changes (increase or decrease) in appetite
Sometimes, a mood episode includes both manic and depressive symptoms. People experiencing such an episode with mixed features may feel very sad, empty, or hopeless, while at the same time feeling extremely energised. These unusual shifts in intense emotions, changes in sleep patterns and unusual behaviours experienced by people with bipolar disorder can have a significant impact on their daily lives.

Between episodes, many people with bipolar disorder are free of mood changes, but some people may have lingering symptoms. Long-term, continuous treatment helps to control these symptoms. Different types of medications that can help control symptoms of bipolar disorder include mood stabilisers, antipsychotics and antidepressants. Psychotherapy done in combination with medication can also be an effective treatment for bipolar disorder.

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