Bipolar disorder is characterized as extreme changes in mood and energy levels. This disorder, also known as manic depressive illness, causes victims to experience episodes of elevated moods that alternate with times of depression.
These often volatile mood swings are unlike typical ups and downs, which are experienced by most people. People who suffer from symptoms of bipolar disorder usually have trouble functioning in relationships and at work.
According to the New York State Office of Mental Health, over 2 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder symptoms.
The disease affects both women and men equally and typically develops in a person during their late teens or early 20s.
About half of the cases are diagnosed prior to age 25, says the National Institute of Mental Health.
If you suspect that your loved one may suffer from this mental condition, seek immediate help from a mental health professional.
The disorder usually results from a chemical imbalance in the brain and should be closely monitored by a medical professional.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
People who suffer from bipolar disorder will exhibit intense mood swings. They will have times when they are overly happy or excited. This is known as a manic episode. At other times, they will be extremely sad and may have feelings of helplessness. This is known as the depressive episode.
Sometimes a mood episode can involve both manic and depressive signs. Generally, each episode will exhibit its own set of symptoms.
Manic Episode Signs:
- Increased energy and alertness
- Overly outgoing
- Extremely irritable
- Difficulty concentrating
- Racing thoughts
- Rapid speech
- Hard time sleeping
- Increased sexual drive
- Aggressive behavior
- High risk behavior
Depressive Episode Signs:
- Overly anxious
- Feeling of helplessness
- Change in eating habits
- Chronic pain
- Feelings of guilt
- Loss of sexual drive
A typical manic episode is defined as having at least three of the symptoms associated with the manic state for at least a week or longer. According to the Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, if the mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be present.
A depressive episode is defined as having at least five symptoms of bipolar disorder associated with the depressive phase present for at least two weeks or longer.
A mild level of mania is known as hypomania and severe episodes of mania or depression are labeled as psychosis in the mental health community. However, in some people symptoms of both states may be present simultaneously. This is known as a mixed bipolar state.
If someone you know suffers from symptoms of bipolar disorder, there is generally no way of knowing when an episode might occur. According to the Mayo Clinic, bipolar sufferers may experience symptoms a few times a year or as frequent as a couple of times a day. However, there are some factors that may trigger mood episodes:
Change in Medication
When a person who suffers from bipolar disorder abruptly stops taking the prescribed medication, symptoms often increase. In fact, this is one of the most commonly seen issues in bipolar patients.
Sleep and Stress
Too much sleep or not enough can trigger the onset of bipolar disorder. For this reason, it is important to watch for adequate sleep in bipolar patients.
A dramatic change in environment or a stressful life event can stimulate the onset of symptoms.
The use of illegal street drugs and alcohol can upset emotional balance in people who suffer from bipolar disorder. Furthermore, some over-the-counter medications such as cold medicines, appetite suppressants and corticosteroids may initiate an episode.
Bipolar Disorder Treatment
There is currently no known cure for bipolar; however, with proper treatment by a mental health professional the disease can be managed. An effective treatment plan often includes medication, psychotherapy, and management and recognition of the symptoms associated with the disorder.
The goals of the treatment are to help the patient avoid self-destructive behavior, function as best as possible in society, avoid mood swings and reduce the severity of symptoms.
The following medications are frequently prescribed for bipolar patients:
- Mood stabilizers
- Antipsychotic medications
The mood stabilizing classes of drugs are the first choice for most patients. In some cases, a combination of several medications may need to be tried to effectively relieve symptoms.
This is a therapy in which the patient talks with a mental health professional. The goal of this treatment is to provide support and education to the bipolar patient. This treatment is often used in conjunction with the administration of medications.
Family member support is crucial in the care and treatment of bipolar patients. First and foremost, make sure that your loved one follows the prescribed medication therapy.
Living with this condition can also be stressful for family members. Sometimes, joining a support group of families that are going through the same issues can help relieve some of the stress.
Educate yourself as much as possible about the symptoms of bipolar disorder. This will help you to recognize and treat issues associated with the frequent mood episodes.
Experts also suggest creating a mood chart for patients. This is an effective way to recognize possible triggers, and will help to avoid them the next time. Over time, this will also help you to better understand what causes the onset of symptoms.