Last modified: March 20, 2017
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Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depressive illness, the sufferers of which are characterised by the extreme shifts in mood between periods of a highly energetic or irritable mood and depression. The upswing in the mood is known as the manic phase and the down-swing as depression. These mood swings between mania and depression are usually very fast and unpredictable and are not like the mood swings experienced normally by everyone.
Bipolar disorder is rarely seen in children and the usual tantrums of children should not be mistaken for the illness. This disorder develops only in the late teen years or early adulthood with most diagnosis seen in people before they are twenty-five years old. It affects men as well as women.
Diagnosis of this disease is not easy because the symptoms of the manic and depressive phases are usually considered separately and it is only through a long term assessment brings out the reality of the condition.
There are three types of bipolar disorder. Type I was previously known as manic depression, characterised by at least one manic period between periods of depression. The type II condition does not exhibit the true manic phase but only the hypomania, exhibited by very energetic and impulsive behaviour. Cyclothymia, is a milder kind of the bipolar disorder and the mood swings are not very extreme. Because of the milder form of the manic phase in the type II and cyclothymia, they may be overlooked and the wrongly diagnosed as depression.
Although bipolar disorders are seen to run in families, the actual causes are still unknown. But it has been observed that certain experiences the person undergoes serve as triggers of the manic phase such as: major changes in life like childbirth, some medications like antidepressants or steroids, insomnia, or the drug habit.
During the manic state people may seem to be easily distracted, with little or no sleep, showing poor judgment, rash behaviour and hardly any self control, over-eating, drinking, and/or drug abuse, promiscuity, extravagance, hyperactivity, chattering, exaggerated self-image and self worth, and highly agitated or irritated. During the depressed phase, the person has difficulty in focussing, recollecting and making decisions. Eating problems like over-eating or eating very little, constant fatigue, lack of energy, low moods or despondency are observed. Extreme of self worth and self-esteem and even suicidal thoughts are other problems met with in this stage.
Treatment includes medications and therapies such as Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and/or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). Medications called mood stabilizers, anti-seizure drugs are usual. Other drugs such as: antipsychotic drugs and anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) for mood problems, as well as antidepressants to treat depression.
The mood-stabilizing medication when taken regularly helps in the effective control of the mood swings. This may often need the help of family or others to take their medications as prescribed. With proper diagnosis and treatment people with bipolar disorder can lead healthy and productive lives.
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