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What is Bipolar Disorder?

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder was once referred to as manic-depressive disorder.  The disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings of emotional highs (mania) and emotional lows (depression).  Individuals with bipolar disorder differ in how these highs and lows are experienced.  Approximately 2.6% of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with bipolar disorderBipolar disorder will get worse if not treated; however, those that do receive treatment can learn to live with it.

Symptoms of bipolar vary and people can experience extended periods of highs and lows, sometimes lasting for years.  Others can experience the highs and lows in rapid succession.  Due to the similarity of the manic episodes with psychosis, some people are given are inaccurate diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Mania is an elevated mood; however, for the person with bipolar disorder, these manic episodes can be a negative experience.  This elevated mood can cause irritability, unpredictable behavior, poor judgment, and engage in risky behavior.  Hypomania is a milder form of mania without the psychotic features.  Many people can function well with hypomania.  Some with bipolar disorder can experience episodes of mania or hypomania many times while others may only experience them rarely.

The lows of bipolar are often extremely draining making it difficult for the individual to do much of anything throughout the day.  Any decision can be overwhelming to the point where the person becomes obsessed with negative feelings.

There is no known cause of bipolar disorder; however, stress, genetics, and brain function have been found to be present in those with the disorder.

To be properly diagnosed, an individual should first seek assistant from a physician to rule out other causes of the symptoms.  If the physician cannot find any medical reasons for the extreme highs and lows, they may refer the individual to a mental health professional.  The mental health professional will conduct a thorough assessment including family and childhood history and onset of symptoms.  The mental health professional will also review the pattern of the symptoms and how impaired the person is during their most severe episodes.

There are four types of bipolar disorder including Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, Cyclothymic Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder Unspecified.  Bipolar I Disorder involves manic episodes that are present for at least seven days.  Bipolar II Disorder is diagnosed when a person goes back and forth between depressive and manic episodes.  Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia, is diagnosed when a person experiences hypomania and mild depression for at least two years.  Bipolar Disorder Unspecified is diagnosed when the person does not meet the criteria for the other types of the disorder.

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