Bipolar disorder (previously called “manic depressive disorder”) is characterized by extremes in mood and related changes in behavior and thoughts. In this condition, an individual experiences both highs (mania or its milder form, hypomania), and lows (depression), or a mixture of these symptoms at the same time. Unlike depression, the symptoms of bipolar may not be distressing to individuals bipolar disorder, and may go unnoticed by them. . The symptoms of bipolar disorder may wax and wane, but the condition itself is chronic and requires ongoing management,. However, with good treatment and self-management skills, individuals with bipolar disorder can lead productive and fulfilling lives. Approximately one in every hundred people (1%) develop bipolar disorder.
- Mania (highs): may include feelings of euphoria, increased energy, and a heightened sense of optimism. Often times, those diagnosed with Bipolar disorder have a high degree of energy, have little need for sleep, and cannot turn off the racing thoughts in their mind. Many also report having periods of increased energy and drive along with irritability. . Milder forms of mania are called hypomania.
- Depression (lows): consists of sad or blue moods, sometimes with a sense that things will never get better. Often people stop feeling pleasure in usual activities and become overly pessimistic, hopeless, guilty, or even think about ending their lives. Sometimes there are physical changes as well, such as sleeping too little or too much and eating too little or too much.
- Other Symptoms: may at times accompany bipolar disorder. Specifically, common co-occurring conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorders. Occasionally individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder may experience hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there) or delusions (strange, fixed beliefs) when severely manic or depressed. These additional symptoms require treatment as well.
- There is no single identifiable cause of bipolar disorder. Rather, it is believed that a variety of individual characteristics and outside factors contribute to the onset of bipolar symptoms, usually during early adulthood.
- Genetics: There is some indication that genetics plays a role in predisposing an individual to bipolar disorder, but researchers have been unable to identify any specific genetic cause. It is more likely that the disorder is caused by a combination of genetic factors and environmental triggers.
- Biological factors: Research has linked bipolar disorder to problems with certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (for example, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine). These neurotransmitters let brain cells communicate with one another, and research indicates that problems in this communication can contribute to bipolar disorder.
- Life stressors: Research suggests that both physical stressors (like change in seasons or use of drugs) and social stressors (like family stress or job stress) can affect the onset and course of Bipolar disorder symptoms.
There are no laboratory tests, genetic tests, brain scans, or paper-and-pencil tests that can tell you if you have bipolar disorder. Sometimes, however, brain scans are used to rule-out physical problems (such as a tumor) as the cause of the symptoms. A diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is made after thorough clinical interview and observation by an experienced clinical provider.