The cause of bipolar disorder is not well understood. Evidence suggests there is a genetic risk factor in the development of bipolar disorder. It is also possible that episodes of depression and mania may be caused by a problem with brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. There is some evidence that bipolar disorder in older adults may be linked to a medical disorder (such as problems with the endocrine system) or a neurological disorder (such as poor blood flow to the brain). Research efforts are continuing in order to find the cause and, ultimately, a cure for bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder causes extreme moods, from feeling overly energetic (mania) to feeling very sad or having low energy (depression). Common symptoms of these mood swings are as follows:
Symptoms of mania may include:
Feeling extremely happy (elated or euphoric) or very irritable.
Thinking very highly of yourself or your abilities
Not needing as much sleep as usual
(may feel rested after three hours of sleep).
Talking more than usual.
More active than usual.
Having a hard time concentrating due to experiencing too many thoughts at once
Easily distracted by sights and sounds.
Acting impulsively or doing reckless things, such as going on shopping sprees, driving recklessly, getting into foolish business ventures, or having frequent or indiscriminate sex (sometimes without protection).
Symptoms of depression may include:
Slowed thoughts and speech due to low energy.
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions.
Changes in eating and sleeping habits leading to too much or too little eating or sleeping. In addition to changes in moods, some people with bipolar disorder also have symptoms of anxiety (such as worrying, not sleeping, or having difficulty concentrating), panic attacks, or symptoms of psychosis.
It is also very common for substance abuse problems to be present along with bipolar disorder, although this is seen more often in men than in women. Substance abuse frequently occurs in the manic state and complicates treatment of bipolar disorder. Sometimes the medications used to treat bipolar disorder will not work as well if drug or alcohol use or abuse is present. Alcohol or drug abuse problems may also be one reason that a person who has bipolar disorder does not take his or her maintenance medications regularly.