Bipolar disorder is a medical condition characterized by extreme mood swings that affect how people think, behave and function.
Bipolar disorder is a medical condition that causes a person to cycle through periods of depression and elevated mood.
Bipolar disorder typically consists of three states:
a high state, called mania
a low state, called depression
a well state, during which many people feel normal and function well.
All people experience emotional ups and downs, but the mood swings for people with bipolar disorder are often more extreme.
Signs & Symptoms
Sometimes, a person may seem continuously high, happy, and euphoric, or irritable, angry, and aggressive, for at least one week. If this change in mood is accompanied by at least three of the following symptoms, the person may be in the manic phase of bipolar disorder:
exaggerated self-esteem or feeling of grandeur
decreased need for sleep
more talkative than usual
excessive energy for activities
engaging in risky behaviour or exhibiting poor judgement.
A less intense form of mania is hypomania. The symptoms of hypomania are less severe than those of mania. The person may feel happy and have a lot of energy, but his or her life usually is not seriously disrupted. Hypomania may progress to a full-blown manic episode or a severe depression and therefore also requires treatment.
A person may be experiencing the depressive phase of bipolar disorder if at least five of the following symptoms are present for at least two weeks and experienced on most days:
loss of interest or pleasure in activities that used to be enjoyable
weight loss or gain
difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
apathy or agitation
loss of energy
feelings of worthlessness and guilt
inability to concentrate
thoughts of suicide (which should always be taken seriously)
Some people with bipolar disorder experience manic and depressive symptoms at the same time. This is called a mixed episode. For example, someone experiencing a mixed episode may think and speak very rapidly. At the same time, they may be very anxious and have suicidal thoughts. Mixed episodes are hard to diagnose and are very painful for the individual.
People with bipolar disorder may also experience psychotic symptoms, such as losing touch with reality, hearing voices or having ideas that are not based in reality. Psychotic symptoms can be very frightening for the person having them and for others.
Up to 25 per cent of people experiencing episodes of depression or mania also have problems with movement, called catatonic symptoms. These may include extreme physical agitation, slowness, and odd movements or postures.
Causes & Risk Factors
The precise causes of bipolar disorder are unknown. However, there is strong evidence that biological factors, including genetics, play an important role. Stress or difficult family relationships do not cause the illness. However, these factors may trigger an episode in someone who already has the illness.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Bipolar disorder can be hard to diagnose because it has many symptoms. Additionally, many people will have a long period between depressive and manic phases, and people are likely to seek help only when they are experiencing depressive symptoms.
To help determine whether someone has bipolar disorder, health care professionals will ask about thoughts, feelings, behaviour, and personal and family medical history.
There are no laboratory tests for bipolar disorder, but tests can rule out illnesses that have similar symptoms, such as thyroid disease.
The main treatment options for bipolar disorder are medication and psychotherapy. Often both types of treatment are needed, but in order to bring symptoms under control, it is usually medication that is needed first.
The main types of medication used to treat bipolar disorder are:
Like chronic disorders such as hypertension or diabetes, bipolar disorder can be managed and controlled by combining treatment with a healthy lifestyle. The goal in treating bipolar disorder is to help the person get well again. This includes:
treating symptoms until they no longer cause distress