What is Bipolar Disorder?

>Commonly known as manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder is a serious mental condition characterized by extreme changes in mood. If you have this disorder, you experience emotional highs, or manic episodes, and lows, or depressive episodes. These episodes are distinct periods that are separate from the moods you may usually feel.

During manic episodes, you may:

  • Feel very happy and energetic
  • Speak very fast and about many different topics
  • Become much more active than usual
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Engage in impulsive behavior, like spending a large sum of money
In contrast, depressive episodes may bring about:
  • Sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Very low energy and activity levels
  • Forgetfulness and trouble concentrating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
Episodes may be a mixture of both manic and depressive symptoms. In such an episode, you may feel sad, empty, and hopeless but have a high level of energy at the same time. Sometimes, changes in mood are less dramatic. For example, you may feel happy and think everything is fine, but people around you may notice your mood changes. Episodes like this are called hypomania. If you are hypomanic and do not receive proper treatment, your condition will likely worsen.

Generally considered a lifetime illness, the disorder begins in the late teen or early adult years. Bipolar disorder has no known cause, but research has shown that it tends to run in families. To diagnose it, a psychiatrist carefully assesses your moods and behavior patterns. You may also be asked to keep a daily record of your moods and other factors that can help with diagnosis and determining the right course of therapy. Counseling is a typical form of treatment, as is a group of medications that can control symptoms, called antipsychotics.

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