Information Source for Bipolar Disorder



Bipolar Disorder is treatable and untreated can be extremely destructive. Bipolar Disorder untreated can destroy the afflicted person's life and threaten, attack or destroy lives of those nearby.

SYMPTOMS OF BIPOLAR DISORDER

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But there is good news: bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

More than 2-million American adults, or about 1% of the population age 18 and older in any given year, have bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, some people have their first symptoms during childhood, and some develop them late in life. It is often not recognized as an illness, and people may suffer for years before it is properly diagnosed and treated. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person's life.

Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings—from overly "high" and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, and then back again, often with periods of normal mood in between. Severe changes in energy and behavior go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression.

Signs and Symptoms of Mania Include:

• Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
• Excessively "high," overly good, euphoric mood
• Extreme irritability
• Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another
• Distractibility, can't concentrate well
• Little sleep needed
• Unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers
• Poor judgment
• Spending sprees
• A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
• Increased sexual drive
• Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
• Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
• Denial that anything is wrong

A manic episode is diagnosed if elevated mood occurs with 3 or more of the other symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for 1 week or longer. If the mood is irritable, additional symptoms must be present.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression Include:

• Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood
• Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
• Decreased energy, feeling fatigue or "slowed down"
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
• Restlessness or irritability
• Sleeping too much, or can't sleep
• Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
• Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury
• Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

A depressive episode is diagnosed if 5 or more of these symptoms last most of the day, nearly every day, for a period of 2 weeks or longer.

A mild to moderate level of mania is called hypomania. Hypomania may feel good to the person who experiences it and may even be associated with good functioning and enhanced productivity. Thus even when family and friends learn to recognize the mood swings as possible bipolar disorder, the person may deny that anything is wrong. Without proper treatment, however, hypomania can become severe mania in some people or can switch into depression.

Sometimes, severe episodes of mania or depression include symptoms of psychosis (or psychotic symptoms). Common psychotic symptoms are hallucinations (hearing, seeing, or otherwise sensing the presence of things not actually there) and delusions (false, strongly held beliefs not influenced by logical reasoning or explained by a person's usual cultural concepts). Psychotic symptoms in bipolar disorder tend to reflect the extreme mood state at the time. For example, delusions of grandiosity, such as believing one is the President or has special powers or wealth, may occur during mania; delusions of guilt or worthlessness, such as believing that one is ruined and penniless or has committed some terrible crime, may appear during depression. People with bipolar disorder who have these symptoms are sometimes incorrectly diagnosed as having schizophrenia, another severe mental illness.

It may be helpful to think of the various mood states in bipolar disorder as a spectrum or continuous range. At one end is severe depression, above which is moderate depression and then mild low mood, which many people call "the blues" when it is short-lived but is termed "dysthymia" when it is chronic. Then there is normal or balanced mood, above which comes hypomania (mild to moderate mania), and then severe mania.

BIPOLAR DISORDER GENETIC DIAGNOSIS

More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the disorder or with unipolar major depression, indicating that the disease has a heritable component. Studies seeking to identify the genetic basis of bipolar disorder indicate that susceptibility stems from multiple genes. Scientists are continuing their search for these genes using advanced genetic analytic methods and large samples of families affected by the illness. The researchers are hopeful that identification of susceptibility genes for bipolar disorder, and the brain proteins they code for, will make it possible to develop better treatments and preventive interventions targeted at the underlying illness process.

Researchers are using advanced imaging techniques to examine brain function and structure in people with bipolar disorder. An important area of imaging research focuses on identifying and characterizing networks of interconnected nerve cells in the brain, interactions among which form the basis for normal and abnormal behaviors. Researchers hypothesize that abnormalities in the structure and/or function of certain brain circuits could underlie bipolar and other mood disorders. Better understanding of the neural circuits involved in regulating mood states will influence the development of new and better treatments, and will ultimately aid in diagnosis.

Treatment in the Hospital

In extreme conditions, when a person suffering from Bipolar Disorder is having a Mania or Manic Attack and you are concerned about their safety or the safety of others, hospitalization may be required. Especially if the individual is experiencing hallucinations (Talking or seeing imaginary people.) you should get them medical help immediately. Many people will tell you that the person either needs to be suicidal or homicidal to be hospitalized against their will to protect themselves and/or others. This is not true as they also can be hospitalized if they are gravely disabled. Do not hesitate to seek medical care to protect your loved ones or the people around them, Bipolar Disorder is treatable and the hospital may be the best place for them during an extreme mania.

How is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

Most people with bipolar disorder—even those with the most severe forms—can achieve substantial stabilization of their mood swings and related symptoms with proper treatment. Because bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness, long-term preventive treatment is strongly recommended and almost always indicated.

A strategy that combines medication and psychosocial treatment is optimal for managing the disorder over time. In most cases, bipolar disorder is much better controlled if treatment is continuous than if it is on and off. But even when there are no breaks in treatment, mood changes can occur and should be reported immediately to your doctor. The doctor may be able to prevent a full-blown episode by making adjustments to the treatment plan. Working closely with the doctor and communicating openly about treatment concerns and options can make a difference in treatment effectiveness.

In addition, keeping a chart of daily mood symptoms, treatments, sleep patterns, and life events may help people with bipolar disorder and their families to better understand the illness. This chart also can help the doctor track and treat the illness most effectively.

MEDICATIONS

Medications for bipolar disorder are prescribed by psychiatrists—medical doctors (M.D.) with expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. While primary care physicians who do not specialize in psychiatry also may prescribe these medications, it is recommended that people with bipolar disorder see a psychiatrist for treatment.

Medications known as "mood stabilizers" usually are prescribed to help control bipolar disorder. Several different types of mood stabilizers are available. In general, people with bipolar disorder continue treatment with mood stabilizers for extended periods of time (years). Other medications are added when necessary, typically for shorter periods, to treat episodes of mania or depression that break through despite the mood stabilizer.

• Lithium, the first mood-stabilizing medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of mania, is often very effective in controlling mania and preventing the recurrence of both manic and depressive episodes.

• Anticonvulsant medications, such as valproate (Depakote®) or carbamazepine (Tegretol®), also can have mood-stabilizing effects and may be especially useful for difficult-to-treat bipolar episodes. Valproate was FDA-approved in 1995 for treatment of mania.

• Newer anticonvulsant medications, including lamotrigine (Lamictal®), gabapentin (Neurontin®), and topiramate (Topamax®), are being studied to determine how well they work in stabilizing mood cycles.

• Anticonvulsant medications may be combined with lithium, or with each other, for maximum effect.

• Children and adolescents with bipolar disorder generally are treated with lithium, but valproate and carbamazepine also are used. Researchers are evaluating the safety and efficacy of these and other psychotropic medications in children and adolescents. There is some evidence that valproate may lead to adverse hormone changes in teenage girls and poly cystic ovary syndrome in women who began taking the medication before age 20. Therefore, young female patients taking valproate should be monitored carefully by a physician.

• Women with bipolar disorder who wish to conceive, or who become pregnant, face special challenges due to the possible harmful effects of existing mood stabilizing medications on the developing fetus and the nursing infant. Therefore, the benefits and risks of all available treatment options should be discussed with a clinician skilled in this area. New treatments with reduced risks during pregnancy and lactation are under study.

Treatment of Bipolar Depression

Treatment of Bipolar Depression Research has shown that people with bipolar disorder are at risk of switching into mania or hypomania, or of developing rapid cycling, during treatment with antidepressant medication. Therefore, "mood-stabilizing" medications generally are required, alone or in combination with antidepressants, to protect people with bipolar disorder from this switch. Lithium and valproate are the most commonly used mood-stabilizing drugs today. However, research studies continue to evaluate the potential mood-stabilizing effects of newer medications.

• Atypical anti psychotic medications, including clozapine (Clozaril®), olanzapine (Zyprexa®), risperidone (Risperdal®), quetiapine (Seroquel®), and ziprasidone (Geodon®), are being studied as possible treatments for bipolar disorder. Evidence suggests clozapine may be helpful as a mood stabilizer for people who do not respond to lithium or anti convulsants. Other research has supported the efficacy of olanzapine for acute mania, an indication that has recently received FDA approval. Olanzapine may also help relieve psychotic depression.

• If insomnia is a problem, a high-potency benzodiazepine medication such as clonazepam (Klonopin®) or lorazepam (Ativan®) may be helpful to promote better sleep. However, since these medications may be habit-forming, they are best prescribed on a short-term basis. Other types of sedative medications, such as zolpidem (Ambien®), are sometimes used instead.

• Changes to the treatment plan may be needed at various times during the course of bipolar disorder to manage the illness most effectively. A psychiatrist should guide any changes in type or dose of medication.

• Be sure to tell the psychiatrist about all other prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or natural supplements you may be taking. This is important because certain medications and supplements taken together may cause adverse reactions.

• To reduce the chance of relapse or of developing a new episode, it is important to stick to the treatment plan. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about the medications.

People with bipolar disorder often have abnormal thyroid gland function. Because too much or too little thyroid hormone alone can lead to mood and energy changes, it is important that thyroid levels are carefully monitored by a physician.

People with rapid cycling tend to have co-occurring thyroid problems and may need to take thyroid pills in addition to their medications for bipolar disorder. Also, lithium treatment may cause low thyroid levels in some people, resulting in the need for thyroid supplementation.

Medication Side Affects

Before starting a new medication for bipolar disorder, always talk with your psychiatrist and/or pharmacist about possible side effects. Depending on the medication, side effects may include weight gain, nausea, tremor, reduced sexual drive or performance, anxiety, hair loss, movement problems, or dry mouth. Be sure to tell the doctor about all side effects you notice during treatment. He or she may be able to change the dose or offer a different medication to relieve them. Your medication should not be changed or stopped without the psychiatrist's guidance.