Bipolar disorder (also called manic-depressive disorder) is a medical condition that causes a person to have extreme mood changes that alternate between depression and mania. A person may return to a normal mood between these extremes. However, a depressive or manic episode can appear suddenly, without an obvious trigger.
1. Although mood changes associated with bipolar disorder can be difficult, effective treatment is available to improve the quality of life for those diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is quite common and occurs equally among males and females. Approximately 4 million Americans will suffer from bipolar disorder in their lifetimes, with similar rates existing in other countries.
1. The onset of bipolar disorder often occurs between the ages of 15 and 19, although diagnosis and treatment may not begin until several years later.
2. Certain childhood attention disorders can mimic symptoms of bipolar disorder. Research is ongoing to determine whether a connection between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder exists.
3. While symptoms can be similar, ADHD is a separate disorder that is very different from bipolar disorder and has different treatment. Your doctor can distinguish and properly diagnose ADHD with a formal evaluation. Most cases of ADHD are not related to bipolar disorder.
There are several different types of bipolar disorder. Doctors identify bipolar subtypes based on the following criteria:
One or more manic episodes
Usually numerous major depressive episodes
One or more major depressive episodes
No manic episodes
One or more hypomanic episodes
Mixed or dysphoric bipolar disorder
Both manic and depressive episodes that occur nearly every day. People experience rapidly alternating moods, such as sadness, euphoria, and irritability, along with other symptoms of depression and mania.
Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder
More than four episodes of mood disturbance in the past 12 months
Mood changes of bipolar disorder can be mild or extreme and develop gradually (over a period of days to weeks) or rapidly (within minutes or hours). The mood episodes can last from hours to months. However, if your mood changes are very mild, it is possible you may not have bipolar disorder but a condition called cyclothymic disorder.
There are many kinds of treatment for bipolar disorder. You and your doctor can discuss which treatment is right for you. Learning to recognize the early symptoms of your manic and depressive episodes can help, because early treatment can reduce their impact on your daily life. If bipolar disorder is not treated, it can lead to serious illness, the need for longer treatment, and even death due to suicide or reckless or risky behavior. It is also important that family members of a person who has bipolar disorder receive supportive counseling because bipolar disorder greatly impacts the entire family.