What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder or formerly manic depression is a mental illness characterized by dramatic changes in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to carry out daily activities. Changes include emotional swings with intense joy and increased activity or intense sadness and lack of interest. These episodes occur several times over time and may include psychotic-type symptoms in some patients. Although one will have bipolar disorder forever, its symptoms can be limited and treated if the patient consults the doctor and follows the appropriate treatment regimen. 

The types of Bipolar Disorder

  • Type I BD: The occurrence of at least one manic episode and the possibility of a major depressive episode in the person’s memory.
  • Type II BD: The occurrence of at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Symptoms of hypomania or depression for at least two years that do not correspond to typical hypomania or depression.
  • Other types: These include Bipolar Disorder and related disorders caused by specific drugs or alcohol or other conditions.

Bipolar Disorder can occur at any age, but is typically diagnosed in young adulthood.

What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

People with Bipolar Disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotions, changes in sleep patterns, activity level and behavior. The way a person treats others and their mood during these times is different from their permanent behavior.

Symptoms for manic episodes include:

  • Euphoric (excessively elevated) mood
  • Intense energy
  • Hyperstimulation
  • Insomnia
  • Speech flow (rapid speaking and on different topics of conversation)
  • Irritability
  • Overconfidence (feeling that you can do many things at once)
  • Excessive, uninhibited, and risky behavior (e.g., spending too much money on something or being sexually hyperactive)
bipolar disorder

Symptoms for depressive episodes include:

  • Hopelessness, despair
  • Depressed mood
  • Lack of energy
  • Sleep disturbance (primarily early awakening)
  • Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure)
  • Memory disorders
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Weakness, exhaustion, fatigue
  • Increased or decreased food intake
  • Thoughts of death or suicidal tendencies

Sometimes the patient may experience symptoms of mania and depression at the same time. This is called a mixed type episode. Sometimes they can manifest mood swings that are less obvious and intense. 

Some people with Bipolar Disorder experience hypomania, a less severe form of mania. During such an episode, the person feels very good, very productive and functional. The person themselves may feel very optimistic, yet their family may recognize these symptoms as exaggerated and may worry about Bipolar Disorder.

The symptoms of Bipolar Disorder can cause unpredictable changes in mood and behavior, leading to significant distress and difficulty in living.

What are the causes and risk factors for Bipolar Disorder?

The causes of Bipolar Disorder are not clearly defined. However, there are some risk factors that are blamed for the onset of the disease. People with Bipolar Disorder show biological differences in their brain structure and function compared to other people.

It is also being investigated whether there are specific genes responsible for the disease, as it has been observed that it occurs more often among first-degree relatives, such as parents and children.

In summary, risk factors include:

  • Heredity (if there is a first-degree relative who already has Bipolar Disorder, such as the parent)
  • Periods of intense stress, such as the death of a loved one or a traumatic event
  • Mental trauma
  • Use of toxic substances or abuse of alcohol or other psychoactive substances

How is the diagnosis made?

The correct and timely diagnosis and treatment of Bipolar Disorder will ensure the patient a better quality of life, in which they will be able to be much more productive.

A proper diagnosis requires a psychiatric evaluation. The doctor will carry out the necessary clinical and laboratory tests to determine if there is a pathological cause that causes the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. During the examination and interview, personal questions will be asked about thoughts and feelings, as well as the completion of a questionnaire. A daily diary in which the person with Bipolar Disorder notes their mood and how they feel and how they slept the night before may also be needed.

bipolar disorder

How is it treated?

Bipolar Disorder is a condition that will follow the patient throughout his/her life. However, with appropriate treatment, symptoms can be managed and reduced, as well as ensuring a better quality of life for both the patient and their loved ones. Depending on the individual needs, the treatment may include:

  • Medication during the acute phase to restore balance to their mood
  • Permanent treatment – to maintain mood balance. The disorder requires the patient to take medication throughout their life, even during times when they feel better, as symptoms may recur if treatment is discontinued.
  • Psychotherapy – being able to communicate and talk with the doctor can provide the patient with support and guidance on how to cope with the disorder and reduce symptoms. Also, it is important for the psychiatrist to talk to the patient’s family as well, to give them some advice so they can support him.
  • Hospitalization – if they are experiencing psychotic symptoms, dangerous behavior or are suicidal, they may need psychiatric treatment to help keep them safe and stabilize their mood.

There are many treatments applied to Bipolar Disorder. The type of treatments and the dosage of the drugs prescribed are based on the particular characteristics and symptoms of the patient. In any case, if you are taking any medication, you should not stop it suddenly without receiving instructions from your doctor first.

Complications of Bipolar Disorder

If Bipolar Disorder is not treated in time and its symptoms are neglected, it can lead to serious problems that may affect a patient’s life at various levels such as leading to:

  • Reduced daily functioning and poor quality of life
  • Abuse (alcohol, toxic substances)
  • Suicide
  • Legal or financial problems
  • Poor interpersonal and family relationships
  • Reduced performance at work or in education

Very often patients with Bipolar Disorder also suffer from other emotional, developmental or anxiety disorders such as anxiety disorder, eating disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or other pathological problems such as cardiovascular disease, thyroid disease and obesity. These phenomena are either a consequence of the disease or of the medication.