Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme changes in mood ranging from depression to mania. In addition to mood swings, there are also unusual shifts in energy levels, activity levels, and ability to carry out tasks. Individuals with this disorder experience intense emotional states that are beyond the normal ups and downs of everyday life. An individual who is depressed may feel worthless and not be able to think, while a person who is manic may recklessly spend money or quit their job. The severity of the mood swings experienced by individuals with this disorder is so intense that it interferes with their ability to function. However, with proper treatment people suffering from Bipolar disorder can lead fully productive, happy lives.
This disorder is characterized into two different types, Bipolar I disorder and Bipolar II disorder and one related disorder, cyclothymia. Individuals suffering from Bipolar I disorder experience episodes of mania in which there are an abnormally elevated and persistent mood and activity level. Mania mood symptoms of euphoria or excessive cheerfulness occur for most of the day for at least seven days. Bipolar II disorder is characterized by a pattern of depressive episodes that shift back and forth with hypomanic episodes. Hypomania is a milder form of mania lasting at least four consecutive days. The mood swings associated with both of these disorders usually occur in cycles with periods where the individual is able to function normally.
Finally, cyclothymia is a disorder in which an individual has a chronic fluctuation in mood that involves hypomanic and depression symptoms that are separate from one another. This disorder is similar to bipolar disorder, however, the hypomanic symptoms are never severe enough to be classified as a hypomanic episode and the depression symptoms don’t meet the full criteria for a major depressive episode. In order to be diagnosed with cyclothymia, an individual has to of experienced symptoms of hypomania and depression for a period of at least two years. During the two-year period symptoms must occur more days than not and there can’t be a symptom-free period lasting longer than two months.
The causes of these three disorders are not completely understood, but research has suggested a few theories of possible causes.
Genetics: Research suggests that inherited traits may cause bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is more common in individuals who have family members, especially parents or siblings that suffer from the same disorder.
Hormones: Another theory suggests hormones as a cause for bipolar disorder. Research has shown that individuals with bipolar disorder have imbalanced hormones which could play a role in causing and triggering this disorder.
Neurotransmitters: A third theory suggests that neurotransmitters in the brain may cause this disorder. It is believed that when these naturally occurring brain chemicals are not balanced that it can lead to bipolar disorder.
Biological: Finally, it has been hypothesized that physical changes in the brain can cause bipolar disorder. Research has shown that individuals with bipolar disorder seem to have physical changes in their brains, for example, a smaller prefrontal cortex, which may cause this disorder.
While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown research has suggested that it is likely a combination of many different factors that plays a role in the development of this disorder.
Individuals who suffer from one of these disorders can experience a variety of symptoms. The signs and symptoms can vary depending on the type of Bipolar disorder an individual has. Some of the symptoms that may be present during manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes include:
(lasting at least a week)
(milder level of mania, lasting at least 4 consecutive days)
Bipolar I disorder is defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days. A depressive episode usually occurs as well typically lasting for about two weeks. However, it is not necessary to have a depressive episode to be diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder. On the other hand, Bipolar II disorder is defined as a pattern of both depressive and hypomanic episodes, without full blow manic or mixed episodes. Finally, cyclothymic disorder is defined by hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are never severe enough to be classified as full blown episodes.