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Bipolar disorder , previously known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. These shifts in mood are much more severe than the normal ups and downs experienced by most people. Bipolar disorder is defined by the presence of one or more episodes of elevated mood, or mania, along with depressive episodes or symptoms. These moods are usually separated by periods of normal mood, but in some people, depression and mania may rapidly alternate. When four or more episodes occur within a 12-month period, a person is said to have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. Some people experience multiple episodes within a single week, or even within a single day. Rapid cycling tends to develop later in the course of illness and is more common among women than among men. Bipolar II Disorder is used to describe the illness when a person experiences milder episodes of mania that alternate with depression.

Approximately 5.7 million Americans, age 18 or older, have bipolar disorder. It typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood, although some people have their first symptoms in childhood, while others develop them later in life. Bipolar disorder is very treatable and patients diagnosed with this illness can lead full, productive lives. However, much like asthma, diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness and must be carefully managed on an ongoing basis. Episodes of mania and depression typically recur throughout a person’s life span. Some studies suggest that genetics, early environment and neurobiology contribute to bipolar disorder, although a clear organic cause has not been found. Bipolar disorder is treated with medications and/or counseling.

Symptoms of a manic episode:

Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
Excessively euphoric mood
Extreme irritability
Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one topic to another
Inability to concentrate
Little sleep needed
Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers
Poor judgment
Shopping sprees
A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
Increased sexual drive
Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
Overly aggressive behavior
Denial that anything is wrong

Symptoms of a depressive episode:

Sad or anxious mood most of the time
Lasting feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
Decreased sex drive
Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or of being “slowed down”
Difficulty concentrating
Restlessness or irritability
Insomnia or sleeping too much
Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
Chronic pain not caused by physical illness or injury
Thoughts of death or suicide, or attempted suicide



 


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