Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is a disorder that causes someone to experience abnormal changes in their energy, mood, and ability to manage daily tasks. Bipolar isn’t just the regular fluctuations we all deal with throughout life, this is a marked shift that can severely impact someone’s ability to function. This disorder most often appears before the age of 25, with more than half of people being diagnosed before this point.1

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Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar 1 Disorder is characterized by experiencing manic episodes lasting at least one week. A manic episode will consist of extremely elevated mood and energy levels. If symptoms don’t last seven days, they could represent bipolar 1 if they require immediate medical attention. Someone with bipolar 1 will typically experience depression as well, though this isn’t necessary for a diagnosis. An individual may also experience a combination of manic and depressive symptoms, known as depression with mixed features.2

Bipolar 2 Disorder is similar to bipolar 1, however someone with this diagnosis will have less extreme manic episodes, referred to as a hypomanic episode. 2

Cyclothymic Disorder is similar to bipolar 1 and 2, but has a milder presentation of symptoms. 2

What does a Manic Episode look like?

Someone who is experiencing a manic episode will have obvious changes in their energy and behavior, for example, they might overestimate how much they can do without getting tired, have an inflated sense of importance, experience an increase in desire for pleasurable activities like sex, eating, or drinking, require less sleep, have racing thoughts, or feel wired/jumpy/irritable/touchy.3 Someone experiencing a manic episode may also engage in risk taking behavior.

What does a Depressive Episode look like?

Someone who is experiencing a depressive episode may feel hopeless and have thoughts of suicide or death. They may feel a loss of interest in things they normally enjoy and have difficulty performing simple activities. They may also feel very sad or anxious, feel as though they are moving slower than usual, have disruptions in their sleep patterns such as sleeping too much or having difficulty sleeping, feel forgetful or have difficulty concentrating, and they may have difficulty making decisions. 3

What causes Bipolar Disorder?

While the cause of bipolar isn’t entirely understood, there have been increases in understanding of what contributes to this disorder. Individuals with bipolar, it is believed, are experiencing an issue with neurotransmitters in their brain. Serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline are repeatedly associated with mood disorders, including bipolar disorder.4 When levels of noradrenaline are too high, there’s evidence that suggests that this can result in mania, and when noradrenaline is too low, it may result in an episode of depression.5 Genetics also play a role, as someone who has a family member with bipolar has been shown to be more likely to develop the disorder themselves. Environmental factors can also contribute to symptoms, such as experiencing highly stressful events. 5

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1. https://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/evidence-and-research/learn-more-about/463-bipolar-disorder-fact-sheet
2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml
3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml
4. https://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/bipolar-disorder-causes#1
5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bipolar-disorder/causes/#:~:text=Chemical%20imbalance%20in%20the%20brain,include%20noradrenaline%2C%20serotonin%20and%20dopamine.

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