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What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings. Other names are manic depression or manic-depressive illness. People of all ages, male or female, can have it.
There are different kinds of bipolar disorder. They vary based on your symptoms and how often and sudden you have mood swings, or episodes.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder
Most people with mood swings do not have bipolar disorder. However, intense mood swings are the main sign that shows in someone who does have it. At times, you may feel very happy, full of energy, and able to do anything. This can make you excited and unable to rest. This is called mania. At other times, you may feel very sad and alone. This can be painful and make you not want to do anything. This is called depression. People who have bipolar disorder alternate between mania and depression. It is possible to have symptoms of both at the same time. Your mood swings may be frequent and short, or spread out and last a while.
Other signs of mania include:
- feeling powerful and important
- feeling excited or wired
- feeling irritated or sensitive
- having trouble focusing
- not sleeping well or at all
- being more active than usual
- spending a lot of money
- abusing alcohol and drugs
- doing risky or reckless things, including sexual acts
- thinking and talking so fast that other people can’t follow your thoughts.
Other signs of depression include:
- no interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy, including sex
- feeling sad or numb
- crying easily or for no reason
- feeling slowed down
- feeling tired all of the time
- feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- losing or gaining weight
- having trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions
- having headaches, backaches, or digestive problems
- having trouble sleeping or wanting to sleep all of the time
- having thoughts about death and suicide.
What causes bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Genetics may be a factor. You have a greater chance of getting bipolar disorder if it runs in your family.
How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?
Talk to your doctor if you think you have bipolar disorder. The doctor can do a physical exam and mental assessment.
People who have bipolar disorder seek care when they are depressed more often than when they’re manic. This can make it hard to diagnose the condition correctly. Be prepared to share all of your symptoms, health, and family history. You may consider taking a family member or loved one. A correct diagnosis gives you the best chance at getting helpful treatment.
Can bipolar disorder be prevented or avoided?
You cannot prevent or avoid bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder treatment
Some people who have bipolar disorder don’t want to get treatment or don’t think they need it. Some people think they can get better on their own. Often, they don’t realize how much it affects their lives and the lives of the people around them.
You and your doctors will work together to create a treatment plan. The goal is to balance your emotions and help you stay well. Bipolar disorder is treated with medicines to stop the mood swings. Mood stabilizers can even out the highs and lows in your mood. Antidepressant medicine can help reduce the symptoms of depression. Talk to your doctor if you are taking any over-the-counter medicines. He or she can tell you if they will affect your antidepressants.
Your doctor may add other medicines, based on your other symptoms or as you need them. The medicines may not start to work right away. You should start to notice a difference in your moods after a few weeks. Continue to take your medicines per your doctor’s orders. It is important to be consistent in order to get the best outcome.
It’s important to get counseling if you have bipolar disorder. This is a big part of treatment. It can help you with stress, concerns, and relationship problems.
Living with bipolar disorder
It is likely that you will always have some degree or form of bipolar disorder. Treatment can help reduce your symptoms. Other things you can do include:
- Research and learn about bipolar disorder. Ask your doctor for resources. Involve your family and tell them about the condition.
- Stick to a regular routine. Go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day. Eat meals that are good for you. Exercise at regular times.
- Take your medicine every day. Do not stop taking it even if you start to feel better. It may take time for your medicine and therapy to have an effect on your life. Try to be patient and stay focused on your goals.
- Ask your doctor if you can drink caffeine or alcohol with your medicine.
- Learn the early warning signs of your illness. Tell your doctor when you notice changes in your mood, thoughts, or behavior.
- Join a support group. You and your family can share information and experiences with the support group.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What treatment is best for bipolar disorder?
- Should I take medicine all the time or only when I’m feeling bad?
- Are there any support groups in my area that you recommend?
- Should I make any changes to my diet or exercise plan?
- If I have bipolar disorder, will I pass it on to my children?
- What should I do if I start thinking about suicide?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.