Bipolar Disorder is a complex mood disorder characterized by “mood swings”. Among the more than five million adults in America who have Bipolar Disorder, these mood swings can be extreme or frequent. These changes in mood aren’t as simple as transitioning from “happy” to “sad.” With Bipolar Disorder, symptoms can include both a lowering of mood (depression) and an exaggerated elevation of mood (mania). These changes occur in cycles and are referred to as “episodes.” People with Bipolar Disorder experience extreme mood swings that can take three different forms: manic, depressive, and mixed episodes.
In a manic episode, some people with Bipolar Disorder may experience an elevated (extremely happy) mood, often described as feeling “on top of the world.” Others may feel very agitated and act uncooperative and aggressive, which can be frightening for themselves and others. Patients often report that these episodes result in consequences that must be dealt with after the symptoms fade. A diagnosis for a manic episode includes either an elevated or an irritable mood lasting at least a week plus three or more of the following symptoms:
- Talking too fast or too much with racing thoughts
- Risky or impulsive behavior, like sexual promiscuity or excessive spending sprees
- Needing little sleep
- Being easily distracted (your attention shifts between many topics in just a few minutes)
- Having an inflated feeling of power, greatness, or importance
- Intense focus on goal-directed activity
A diagnosis for a major depressive episode would involve having a depressed mood or loss of interest in activities a person used to enjoy. In addition, four of the following symptoms must also be present nearly every day for at least two weeks: weight loss, appetite problems, problems with sleep, restlessness, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, problems with concentrate, indecisiveness or recurrent suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt. A mixed episode includes symptoms that are both manic and depressive.
Bipolar Disorder is often difficult to initially diagnose because people only tend to seek treatment during a depressive episode and neglect to discuss manic symptoms with their healthcare professional. There are no lab tests or other procedures for diagnosing Bipolar Disorder. Instead, a healthcare professional must take a very thorough history of both the patient and, if possible, the patient’s family. Bipolar Disorder does tend to run in families. While there is no cure for Bipolar Disorder, there are effective approaches to help manage these symptoms. Some options may include talk therapy, group therapy, and prescription medication or any combination of these.
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