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.
Signs and symptoms of mania (or a manic episode) include:
* 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
A manic episode is diagnosed if elevated mood occurs with three or more of the other symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for 1 week or longer. If the mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be present.
Signs and symptoms of depression (or a depressive episode) include:
* 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 "
Bipolar disorder can involve any combination of these highs and lows. There are also hypomanias, which can seem like a high-functioning, positive experience, or dysthymia, which is like hypo-depression.
Mixed states are also possible, where one feels sad, depressed, and energized at the same time.
Bipolar I is the classic type- recurrent manic and depressed episodes. Bipolar II involves episodes of depression mixed with hypomanic episodes. If 4 or more episodes occur within a year, it is considered rapid-cycling.
Medication is the most common treatment for bipolar disorder. Some therapies, such as CBT can be useful as well. In cases where neither work, ect is sometimes used. Herbal/nutritional supplements such as St. John's wort or Omega-3 fatty acids have shown to have some effect, but are not thoroughly studied. If you plan on using any supplements, make sure you discuss them with your doctor- some can have effects on medication you are taking.
It is important to keep in close contact with your psychiatrist and monitor you daily mood, sleep patterns, energy, etc. so your doctor can adjust your medication as necessary. Though there is no known cure for bipolar disorder, it can be treated.