by Kimberly Allen, RN
Bipolar disorder is the term for a psychological condition that used to be known as manic depressive disorder. In the US 5.7 million people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder every year. It affects both men and women of all ethnic groups without preference and it can develop as early as childhood and as late as in your 70’s. In the past it was believed to develop only in older adults, however, in recent years the incidence of symptoms of bipolar disorder in teens and young adults has significantly increased. Today the average age at onset of symptoms is 25 years of age. Some experts estimate that up to 7% of the US population suffers from bipolar disorder, further that at least half will not get the correct diagnosis or treatment. According to the World Health Organization bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability worldwide.
Though researchers still don’t know the exact cause of bipolar disorder they do know there are certain factors that appear to be involved in triggering bipolar episodes as well as certain conditions that can be associated with bipolar disorder. People that experience prolonged periods of high stress or abuse alcohol and/or drugs can develop bipolar disorder. Doctors have also found that there are biological factors that play a role in people that develop bipolar disorder. Not only do they tend to have physical alterations in their brains but there is also an imbalance in the neurotransmitters the brain uses to transmit signals especially those affecting mood. Many experts believe that hormones also play a role as women tend to develop bipolar disorder after menopause. Though researchers have not been able to isolate a gene or genes that may be involved in bipolar disorder they do know that it is more common in people that have a family member also suffering with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder has been divided into three different subtypes, each with it’s own symptoms, bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclomythic disorder. People with bipolar I have at least one complete manic or mixed mood episode which may or may not be accompanied by episodes of depression. A complete manic episode would be an obvious period where the persons mood would be significantly elevated that would last a minimum of a week. People experiencing a manic episode have a great deal of energy with little desire for sleep. They are easily distracted and tend to display impaired judgement. Frequently people in a full blown manic episode have delusions of grandeur believing they are “chosen” or unstoppable. Mixed mood episodes are when a person experiences both mania and depression simultaneously. For example a person may be experiencing delusions of grandeur while also feeling like they are a failure. People suffering from this subtype not only have extreme difficulty keeping a job but maintaining relationships. This subtype is also the most serious and can lead to suicide. People with bipolar II experience symptoms similar to bipolar I however, they are much less severe than in bipolar I. For example instead of full blown mania they experience hypomania which is a much less severe form of mania. also, people with bipolar II have at least one episode of depression. In fact in bipolar II the episodes of depression tend to be longer than the episodes of hypomania. In cyclothymic disorder or cyclothymia the episodes of depression and hypomania are mild and can be disruptive but people with this type are usually able to maintain their normal activities of daily living.
Bipolar disorder is a long term condition requiring life long management and treatment. Most people with bipolar disorder are treated by a team of health care professionals including a Psychiatrist, Psychologist and social worker as well as psychiatric nurses. Most treatment plans include psychotherapy as well as medications. Treatment with lithium has a success rate that ranges from 50% to 85% with most patients being satisfied with their treatment.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.