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Is It Bipolar Disorder?

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 present.

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 hypomania.

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 effects.

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.

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