What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings between happy and sad. Other names are manic depression or manic-depressive illness. People of all ages and genders 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 don’t have bipolar disorder. However, intense mood swings are the main symptom of the disorder. 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’s even possible to have symptoms of both at the same time. Your mood swings may be frequent and short, or spread out and last longer.
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 having 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. Usually, bipolar disorder is first diagnosed in a person when he or she is a young adult.
People who have bipolar disorder seek care when they’re 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 with your doctor. You may consider taking a family member or loved one to your appointment. A correct diagnosis gives you the best chance at getting helpful treatment.
Can bipolar disorder be prevented or avoided?
You can’t prevent or avoid bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder treatment
Some people who have bipolar disorder don’t want to get treatment. Some don’t think they need treatment. Some think they can get better on their own. Often, they don’t realize how much the disorder affects their lives and the lives of the people around them. However, don’t be embarrassed to go to the doctor for bipolar disorder. Your doctor can help you manage your symptoms and balance your emotions.
You and your doctor will work together to create a treatment plan. Medicines are an important part of that plan. Some are used 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. It’s important to tell your doctor if you’re taking any over-the-counter medicines. He or she can tell you if they will affect your antidepressants. Your doctor may add other medicines, too, based on your symptoms.
Note the medicines may not work right away. It may take a few weeks before you notice a difference in your moods. Continue to take your medicines per your doctor’s orders. It’s important to be consistent in order to get the best outcome.
It’s also 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
If you have bipolar disorder, it’s likely you will always have some degree of it. Treatment can help reduce your symptoms, but other things help, too. They 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 healthy meals. Exercise at regular times.
- Get outside. Outdoor activities are essential to maintain a stable mood.
- Take your medicine every day. Don’t 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. Hearing from others in similar situations can help.
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?
- 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?
- What support groups in the area do you recommend?
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.