What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder causes a range of
symptoms that can be distressing and disruptive to your life. It was formerly
known as manic-depressive illness. It’s a chronic condition that affects the brain.
This condition causes highs and lows in:
The manic highs and depressive lows give
the condition its name. There’s currently no known cure. People with the
disorder can thrive with proper medication and treatment. There is also no single
known cause of bipolar disorder, but there are certain risk factors.
The average age of
onset for bipolar disorder is 25, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Men and women seem to be affected equally.
Symptoms usually occur in older teenagers or young adults. It’s possible for
the condition to develop at older ages.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
Symptoms of bipolar disorder include high
moods (mania) and low moods (depression) that can vary in intensity and length.
Sometimes psychosis is involved. This is when the person sees or hears things
that are not there, or has delusional thoughts. For instance, a person may
develop delusions of grandeur (such as believing they are the president when
they are not).
Symptoms of mania include:
- rapid speech
- lack of concentration
- high sex drive
- decreased need for
sleep yet increased energy
- increase in impulsivity
- drug or alcohol abuse
Symptoms of depression include:
- loss of energy
- feeling hopeless
- trouble concentrating
- trouble sleeping or sleeping
- appetite changes
- thoughts of death or
- attempting suicide
What are the possible risk factors for bipolar disorder?
No one single risk factor means you will
develop bipolar disorder. Scientists believe that multiple risk factors work
together to trigger the illness. More research needs to be done to pin down the
specific risk factors and causes.
Bipolar disorder tends to run in families.
Children with a parent or sibling with the disorder have a higher chance of developing it than those without affected family members.
Identical twins don’t have the same risk
of developing the illness. It’s likely that genes and environment work together
in the development of bipolar disorder.
Sometimes a stressful event or major life
change triggers a person’s bipolar disorder. Examples of possible triggers
include the onset of a medical problem or the loss of a loved one. This kind of
event can bring about a manic or depressive episode in people with bipolar
Drug abuse might trigger bipolar disorder.
An estimated 60 percent
of individuals with bipolar disorder are dependent on drugs or alcohol. People
with seasonal depression or anxiety disorders may also be at risk for
developing bipolar disorder.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging
(fMRI) and positron emission technology (PET) are two types of scans that can
provide images of the brain. Certain findings on brain scans may be associated
with bipolar disorder. More research is needed to see how these findings
specifically impact bipolar disorder and what this means for treatment and
There are ongoing studies examining possible links between brain changes and the development of
How can I monitor my risk for bipolar disorder?
More research is needed to pinpoint what
exactly causes bipolar disorder. Your best bet for assessing your risk is to be
mindful of your risk factors and discuss any mental or behavioral symptoms you
experience with your healthcare provider.
You should be especially aware of possible
symptoms if your family has a history of bipolar disorder or other mental
health conditions. Consult your healthcare provider if you are experiencing
extreme stress and think that it may be linked to bipolar disorder.