Bipolar Disorder FAQ
Formerly known as manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder is a brain and behavior disorder characterized by severe shifts in a person's mood and energy, making it difficult for the person to function.
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain and behavior disorder characterized by severe shifts in a person's mood and energy, making it difficult for the person to function. More than 5.7 million American adults or 2.6 percent of the population age 18 or older in any given year have bipolar disorder. The condition typically starts in late adolescence or early adulthood, although it can show up in children and in older adults. People often live with the disorder without having it properly diagnosed and treated.
Bipolar disorder causes repeated mood swings, or episodes, that can make someone feel very high (mania) or very low (depressive). The cyclic episodes are punctuated by normal moods.
Mania Episode Signs and Symptoms:
Depressive Episode Signs:
Bipolar disorder cannot yet be diagnosed physiologically by blood tests or brain scans. Currently, diagnosis is based on symptoms, course of illness, and family history. Clinicians rule out other medical conditions, such as a brain tumor, stroke or other neuropsychiatric illnesses that may also cause mood disturbance. The different types of bipolar disorder are diagnosed based on the pattern and severity of manic and depressive episodes. Doctors usually diagnose brain and behavior disorders using guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. According to the DSM, there are four basic types of bipolar disorder:
While no cure exists for bipolar disorder, it is treatable and manageable with psychotherapy and medications. Mood stabilizing medications are usually the first choice in medication. Lithium is the most commonly prescribed mood stabilizer. Anticonvulsant medications are usually used to treat seizure disorders, and sometimes offer similar mood-stabilizing effects as antipsychotics and antidepressants. Bipolar disorder is much better controlled when treatment is continuous. Mood changes can occur even when someone is being treated and should be reported immediately to a physician; full-blown episodes may be averted by adjusting the treatment.
In addition to medication, psychotherapy provides support, guidance and education to people with bipolar disorder and their families. Psychotherapeutic interventions increase mood stability, decrease hospitalizations and improve overall functioning. Common techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, and family therapy.
The main difference between bipolar disorder and major clinical depression is the presence of manic episodes. This is why depression alone is not enough to diagnose an individual with bipolar. However, one manic episode (meeting DMS-IV criteria) is sufficient to make a bipolar diagnosis.