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Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness that is characterized by extreme mood swings. Also referred to as manic depression, bipolar disorder tends to be a chronic illness and requires the attention of a health professional.

Exact causes of bipolar disorder have yet to be determined; however, genetics is believed to play a role. In general, having a bipolar parent or sibling increases the risk, but most individuals with affected family members will not develop the disorder. Chemical imbalances in the brain are also a likely suspect, as are abnormalities in brain structure detected via MRI scans. Bipolar disorder usually arises in the late teen or early adult years, but children can also exhibit signs of the condition.

Occurrences of bipolar disorder are generally comprised of an extended overexcited state, termed a manic episode, or a continuing woeful state called a depressive episode. Less intense mania, known as hypomania, and mixed states of mania and depression are also possible. Behaviors associated with mania include impulsivity, hyperactivity, and extreme self-confidence. Conversely, depressive episodes often consist of restlessness, lack of appetite, disinterest in previously enjoyable activities, and suicidal thoughts or actions.

Bipolar disorder often involves extreme mood swings that contradict each other. Source: Carol & Mike Werner

Precise signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder are contingent upon the specific categorical diagnosis. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are four main subdivisions of bipolar disorder: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, bipolar disorder not otherwise specified, and cyclothymic disorder. Bipolar I disorder involves at least one manic episode, while bipolar II disorder implies at least one depressive and one hypomanic episode but no full manic episodes. The unspecified distinction is reserved for cases that do not fit the criteria for bipolar I or II. Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder that usually manifests through some hypomanic and depressive changes.

Bipolar disorder currently has no cure, but long-term treatments aim to curb mood swings, typically through some combination of prescription drugs and psychotherapy. In terms of medication, bipolar patients most commonly take mood stabilizers. Anticonvulsants for seizures can also be used to regulate mood. Other potentially useful drugs include antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications.

Despite the often-intense nature of bipolar disorder, it is definitely possible to live a relatively normal life with this condition given proper care. Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and singer Demi Lovato are just two examples of continuing success stories among bipolar individuals.

Feature Image Source: Bipolar by Jessi RM

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