Bipolar Disorder What is Bipolar Disorder?Bipolar Disorder is a brain disorder, also known as manic depression, that often causes changes in mood, appetite, activity level, and the ability to do simple daily tasks. It brings periods of extreme highs, extreme lows, and mixed episodes. During extreme highs, or manic episodes, one might have a lot of energy, have trouble sleeping, and do risky things. During extreme lows, or depressive episodes, one might have low energy levels, have trouble sleeping, and feel hopeless. Mixed episodes may have manic and depressive symptoms at the same time. There are three main types of depression, but other types may be related to Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar I disorder contains manic episodes that last at least seven days and depressive episodes that last at least two weeks. Mixed episodes are also possible. Bipolar II disorder contains depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes. Hypomanic episodes contain highs, but they are not as extreme as manic episodes. Cyclothymic disorder contains symptoms of hypomania along with depressive episodes, which last at least two years (or one year for children and adolescents). Related disorders may contain the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, but don’t fit the types listed above. What are the causes and risk factors of Bipolar Disorder?There is not an exact cause known for Bipolar Disorder, but some things might affect the likelihood of someone getting it. People with Bipolar Disorder are often found with physical changes in their brains. The effect of these changes is still uncertain, but they may help pinpoint the disorder in the future. Bipolar Disorder is also more common in direct relatives such as parents or siblings. Researchers are currently researching which genes may be causing this. Sadly, it cannot be prevented. But, there are several risk factors that may increase one’s chance of getting Bipolar Disorder. Children with affected family members have an increased risk of developing it than children without affected family members. A stressful or life-changing event, such as the lost of a loved one, may also trigger Bipolar Disorder. Drug or alcohol abuse may also bring on Bipolar Disorder. About sixty percent of the cases of Bipolar Disorder involve dependence on alcohol. There is still a lot more research to be done on the causes and risk factors of Bipolar Disorder.What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?There are many symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. Someone going through a manic episode may have symptoms such as having high energy and increased activity levels, having troubles sleeping, having fast speech and thoughts, feeling agitated, and doing risky things. Someone going through a depressive episode may have symptoms such as feeling down, having low energy and decreased activity levels, having sleeping troubles, feeling worried or unable to enjoy anything, eating too much, frequently forgetting things, and thoughts of death or suicide. A mixed episode may contain symptoms of both manic and depressive episodes. Hypomania may appear in less significant forms of mania. Symptoms of hypomania may be feeling better than usual and being irregularly productive. However, if hypomania goes untreated, it may develop into more severe mania and depression. Bipolar Disorder is often mistaken for depression or substance abuse. If manic or depressive episodes are infrequent and not extreme, they often go unnoticed. Because depressive episodes are usually longer than manic episodes, Bipolar Disorder can often be misdiagnosed as just depression. If someone is actively abusing alcohol or drugs, the effects of the substances may cover up manic and depressive episodes. Mania can also cause someone to use substances if they have a past with them. Substance abuse can make manic and depressive episodes more frequent or severe.How is Bipolar Disorder Treated? There are three main classes of medications that Bipolar Disorder is treated with. These are mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and, although they are controversial, antidepressants. These medications often combined to counteract both manic and depressive episodes. In addition, patients often go through psychotherapy. Lithium carbonate is mainly effective against manic episodes, and it also helps prevent more depressive episodes. Valproic acid, also known as Depakote, is a mood stabilizer that is also used against manic episodes. Lamotrigine, an antiepileptic drug, can be used to counteract the depressive phases. Other drugs, such as carbamazepine, gabapentin, oxcarbazepine, and topiramate, can also be used to treat Bipolar Disorder. Antidepressants are rarely used long-term because it is possible for them to trigger or increase manic episodes. Any of these drugs can become toxic if the doses are too high, so regular blood testing is needed. Because anybody might react differently to a medication, medications may be experimented with until a good combination is found for someone. Psychotherapy is important so that patients understand and accept what happens during their episodes and how to deal with them. Electroconvulsive therapy is used for patients who have extreme manic or depressive episodes, who do not respond to medication, or who are pregnant with the disorder. Electroconvulsive therapy consists of a grand mal seizure brought on by a small electric current through the scalp. It can be especially helpful for patients at risk of suicide.How Prevalent is Bipolar Disorder? Bipolar disorder is more common than society thinks. About 5.7 million American adults are affected by it. That is roughly 2.6% of the American population. It is also the sixth leading cause of disability in the world. The median age that it is diagnosed at is 25, although it can develop anywhere from childhood to 40’s and 50’s. Appearance of Bipolar Disorder is generally equal between men and women and it can be found in all races, ethnic groups, and social classes. Although the amount of women and men with it are about equal, more women experience rapid cycling and they usually have more mixed and depressive episodes than men. Misconceptions in diagnosing the disorder are also different among gender. In women, Bipolar Disorder is more likely to be mistaken for depression. In men, it is more likely to be mistaken for Schizophrenia.