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Overview of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder, also known as Bipolar Affective Disorder or Manic-Depression, is a type of Mood Disorder where individuals will experience episodes in which their moods slip into extremes of either "lows" or "highs." The low moods involve Depression. The highs, which include Hypomania and Mania, are characterized by abnormally elevated, euphoric or irritable moods and usually an overabundance of energy.

There are four kinds of Bipolar Disorder:

These conditions usually start in late adolescence or early adulthood and tend to run a lifelong course, where the individual can be well for long periods of time but now and again fall back into the episodes of abnormal moods.  About 1 in 20 people [ref] suffer from a Bipolar Disorder. There are some researchers who argue that there is a wider spectrum of Bipolar Disorder that includes up to 1 in 10 people in general population [ref].

People who only experience episodes of depressed moods, and never have any episodes of Mania or Hypomania, are said to have a unipolar Depressive Disorder and not a Bipolar Disorder.  

Depressed states limit and often drastically impair a person's ability to function normally in school or work or to participate fully in family life and relationships.  This is because in a Major Depressive Episode one's energy level and ability to concentrate are often affected, and one also loses the interest and motivation to remain engaged in normal activities.  Moreover, depression is often experienced as a state of psychological pain so intense that in some cases it can even lead to suicide.   

Manic Episodes are also debilitating because here people tend to lose their inhibitions and to engage in acts that are excessive, extreme, and sometimes even dangerous.  In these states people may feel euphoric and they will often not realize that they are behaving abnormally and may resist help and treatment.  Although they will experience a high level of energy and determination, their actions often become disorganized and unproductive. 

Hypomanic Episodes are similar to Manic Episodes in most respects, except that here the individual will still manage to function reasonably well, and at times even at very high levels, in their usual activities, but they will have difficulty relaxing or feeling calm, may feel very irritable, and there is always the danger that their moods can deteriorate into a state of full-blown Mania or lapse into a Major Depressive Episode

There are also Mixed Episodes, where the individual will feel very depressed while simultaneously experiencing the excessive, frantic energy and the loss of inhibitions that are the hallmark of Mania.

In Manic, Mixed and Major Depressive Episodes, individuals can become psychotic and even catatonic, which can be frightening for them and those around them and also lead them to behave in unexpected and potentially dangerous ways. 

Because there are all these different kinds of symtpoms and mood states that can occur in Bipolar Disorder, no two cases of Bipolar Disorder are alike, and even the same individual can, over time, experience very different facets of this condition. For this reason it can be hard at times to diagnose the illness correctly, and in many cases such individuals are misdiagnosed as having Major Depressive Disorder.

People with Bipolar Disorder tend to experience multiple episodes of mood disturbance during their lifetimes, though in between these episodes they usually regain their normal level of psychological health, and their Bipolar Disorder is then said to be in remission.  In most cases, this condition is a cause of disability in a person's life.   The severity of a case is determined by the intensity of the individual mood episodes as well as the total amount of time that the person is affected by these abnormal mood states.  Although there is no definitive cure for this illness, proper lifestyle management, medications and psychotherapy are effective in controlling the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder and preventing relapses.


Bipolar I Disorder