Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that is characterized by intense mood shifts, behavioral changes, and fluctuations in energy levels. The main indicator of bipolar disorder is the presence of manic and hypomanic episodes. Most people suffering from bipolar disorder also experience episodes of depression. Though the disorder is chronic, it is usually manageable with proper treatment.
What Are the Types of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar diagnoses are broken down into three different types, bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia. Here’s what those types involve:
- Bipolar I – This type of bipolar is defined by a person having at least one manic episode. It may also include hypomanic and depressive episodes.
- Bipolar II – Individuals diagnosed with bipolar II have a major depressive episode that is at least two weeks long and at least one hypomanic episode that lasts four days or longer. Bipolar II is more commonly found in women than men.
- Cyclothymia – This type of bipolar involves individuals who have episodes of depression and hypomania. The symptoms of cyclothymia are less severe and for shorter periods than the other two types of bipolar.
What Causes Someone to Develop Bipolar Disorder?
The exact cause of bipolar disorder isn’t known. However, researchers and scientists believe that there are several factors that may contribute to the development of the disorder. Those factors include:
- Genetics – An individual’s chances of developing bipolar disorder are increased if their siblings or parents have it, however, it isn’t absolute. Some people with family histories of bipolar never develop it.
- Brain function and structure – While brain scans are not effective for diagnosing bipolar disorder, there are subtle differences in the average size of activation of some brain structures in individuals with the condition.
- Stress – Stressful events like a serious illness, death in the family, divorce, financial problems, or a difficult relationship can trigger depressive or manic episodes. Therefore, how an individual handles their stress can be a factor in the development of the disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
The three types of bipolar disorder, though similar, have varying symptoms.
Symptoms of Bipolar I
A person is diagnosed with bipolar I when they have a manic episode that last at least a week. During the manic episode they may have extreme increases in energy, feeling of being on top of the world, like they can do anything. They may also experience uncomfortable, irritable moods. They may have hypomanic and depressive episodes, along with periods of neutral moods.
Manic episodes may include the following:
- Reduced need for sleep
- Extreme energy despite having less sleep than usual
- Racing thoughts or quickly changing topics or ideas when talking
- Increased amount or speed of speech
- Disorganized thoughts
- Psychotic symptoms, like hallucinations
- Restlessness, increased activity, working on various things at once
- Increased risky behavior (uncontrollable spending, reckless driving, etc.)
Symptoms of mania are a marked change from the individual’s usual behavior, and they will be noticeable to family and friends. A manic episode will cause disruptions in a person’s day-to-day life. They won’t be able to function at school or work as they usually do and will often have to be hospitalized to stay safe.
Hypomanic episodes may include:
Hypomania episodes are similar to manic episodes, but they are less severe and don’t last as long. They only have to last four days, rather than a week. While these symptoms are typically noticeable to friends and family, they may not lead to major problems in daily life like manic episodes.
Major depressive episodes may include:
A major depressive episode lasts at least two weeks and the individual experiences at least five of the following symptoms (including at least one of the first two symptoms):
- Extreme sadness
- Loss of interest in activities the person once enjoyed
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Slowed speech or movement
- Change in appetite
- Change in sleep
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms of Bipolar II
Bipolar II is diagnosed when an individual has at least one hypomanic episode (with symptoms listed above) and one depressive episode. The depressive episode lasts at least two weeks, which is typically what drives people to seek help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. They may not realize that they have hypomanic episodes because they often feel pleasurable and can enhance their performance at school or work.
Many people with bipolar II have co-occurring mental illnesses like generalized anxiety disorder or substance use disorder.
Symptoms of Cyclothymia
Cyclothymia is a milder type of bipolar in which an individual has many shifts in mood, containing depressive and hypomania symptoms, that happen frequently. They experience emotional highs and lows, but not as extremely as those with bipolar I and bipolar II.
To be considered cyclothymia, sufferers must have the following:
- Many periods of depressive and hypomanic symptoms for at least two years. However, the severity of the symptoms doesn’t meet the requirements to be depressive or hypomanic episodes.
- Mood swings that have lasted for at least half of the two years without stopping for more that two consecutive months.
What Are the Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder?
Symptoms of bipolar disorder can often be significantly improved with treatment. It usually treated with a combination of the following:
- Medication – The most commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder are called mood stabilizers. They are designed to correct imbalanced brain signaling. Lithium is a type of mood stabilizer. Additionally, antipsychotic medications and antidepressants are sometimes used to treat specific symptoms of bipolar disorder. Different medications and dosages may need to be tried to find the right combination for persons with bipolar disorder.
- Psychotherapy – Certain therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and family-focused therapy are often helpful in treating bipolar disorder when used in combination with medication.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – ECT is used in situations in which medication and psychotherapy are not helpful. During ECT, patients are anesthetized, and several rounds of brief electrical current are applied to the scalp, causing a brief, controlled seizure. It is the seizure that is believed to “rewire” brain signaling pathways.
In addition to the above treatments, individuals with bipolar disorder are encouraged to use self-management strategies, such as education and recognition of early symptoms. Sometimes, complementary health approaches like meditation, exercise, and spirituality can help support traditional types of treatment.
Get Help for Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is condition that lasts a lifetime, and it certainly comes with its challenges. However, it doesn’t have to be something that totally disrupts your life. With an effective treatment plan, regular self-care, and a good support system, people with bipolar disorder can live happy, meaningful lives, with far fewer symptoms.
If you believe you may have bipolar disorder, you should reach out to a psychologist or doctor as soon as possible to discuss the possibility and come up with a treatment plan if needed. If you believe your loved one may have bipolar disorder, encourage them to see a trained therapist, psychiatrist, or mental health treatment center. Educating yourself and your family and friends about bipolar is also beneficial.
Keep in mind that bipolar disorder is manageable and the first step is seeking treatment.