Bipolar disorder is a potentially dangerous condition that affects
millions. The hallmark of bipolar disorder is swinging between episodes of
extreme mood. These episodes can lead to exhibitions of behavior that can
drastically affect a person’s life, even threaten it.
The main phases of a bipolar episode are the manic and the
depressive. There are a number of symptoms that could be present with each
phase. The number of bipolar symptoms present and on what scale can vary from
person to person. Some times a person can show signs of both phases in what is
called a mixed state.
People in the grips of a manic phase can be overly optimistic and
have an overbuilt sense of self esteem. Their mood can be extremely upbeat and
happy (euphoria), very jumpy or agitated, or irritable with the potential to
swiftly grow angry.
They can make impulsive decisions in their personal and
professional lives without worrying about the potential consequences for
themselves or their loved ones. This can include getting involved in risky
sexual or financial behavior, quitting jobs, even committing crimes.
Other symptoms of a manic phase include little or no need for
sleep, lack of focus, racing thoughts, fast speech and increased sex drive.
The depressive phase is characterized by symptoms such as an
overwhelming sense of sadness and/or hopelessness, anxiety and guilt.
These feelings can be extreme enough to bring on suicidal thoughts
– thoughts that are some times acted upon.
Other symptoms of the depressive phase include changes in appetite
and eating habits, fatigue, and loss of interest in sex and other activities.
The phases of bipolar happen in cycles. If a person has four or
more of these cycles in a year, it is known as rapid cycling. In some cases,
cycling can happen in a matter of hours.
If you suspect that someone you care about is bipolar or that you
might be bipolar yourself, it is important to get help as soon as possible.
First of all, seek a diagnosis. This will involve a comprehensive
evaluation that could include your doctor and/or a mental health professional
like a psychiatrist. This will not only determine whether or not bipolar
disorder is an issue, but whether other disorders or conditions could be
The evaluation will likely include a physical, interviews with
you, a check of your family medical history and medical tests.
While there is no direct test like a brain scan that will verify
the presence of bipolar disorder, the medical tests can help rule out or
identify other problems that may be causing symptoms similar to bipolar.
If the diagnosis is bipolar disorder, there are several different
types that you could have.
There are two primary types: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. Both
conditions include the mood swings, but in Bipolar II, the manic phases are
less pronounced than they are in Bipolar I. The milder manic phases are called
Some of the other possible diagnoses in this spectrum of disorders
are cyclothymia and bipolar disorder- NOS (Not Otherwise Specified).
Cyclothymia includes both manic and depressive phases, but they
are less severe. Bipolar disorder- NOS is a diagnosis used for conditions that
have bipolar symptoms but do not completely fit one of the other categories.
Regardless of the type of bipolar disorder that may be involved in
your particular case, there are two things to be aware of: the cause or causes
of these disorders are unknown, and there is no cure.
Fortunately, bipolar disorder can be treated – usually with a
combination of medication and psychotherapy that can help a bipolar person keep
their symptoms in check.
Medication mainly takes the form of a family of drugs called mood
stabilizers. Lithium is the oldest of these medications and is still used in
many patients. Lamotrigine (Lamictal) and valproic acid (Depakote) are two
other examples of drugs used to treat bipolar, though there are also several
other options and your doctor will identify an appropriate treatment based on
factors like your symptoms, willingness to take medications, and possible side
Psychotherapy is often a component of comprehensive care for a
person with bipolar disease. The therapy takes a variety of forms but all of it
aims at helping a bipolar person and their loved ones learn techniques to
better cope with the disorder.