Bipolar disorder involves low or depressed mood states. Differences in how the illness presents can complicate diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms often start in adolescence but may not be diagnosed until later, hindering early identification and proper treatment that prevent mood fluctuations and dysfunction in various life aspects. A bipolar disorder diagnosis necessitates at least one manic episode.
The severity of manic symptoms determines the three main types of moderate bipolar disorders:
- Bipolar Type 1: Severe manic symptoms lasting at least one week or requiring hospitalization.
- Bipolar Type 2: Mild to moderate manic symptoms (hypomania) lasting at least three days with mild to moderate daily functioning issues.
- Cyclothymia: Mild hypomanic symptoms for at least one (children/adolescents) or two (adults) years, with mild depressive symptoms not meeting full criteria for hypomania/major depression.
What are the symptoms of mania? Mania is characterized by:
- A persistently elevated “high” or irritable mood
- Increased goal-directed activity, agitation, or high energy levels
- Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
- Decreased need for sleep and feeling rested the next day
- Very talkative and hard to interrupt
- Racing thoughts that jump from topic to topic and are hard to follow
- Highly distractible and poor concentration
- Increase in risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug use, spending a lot of money, and hypersexuality
Meeting the criteria for mania requires experiencing at least three of these symptoms (four if irritable mood) simultaneously. Hypomanic symptoms resemble manic symptoms but are less severe and cause fewer impairments. Individuals with bipolar disorder often experience severe depressive episodes, which are a common reason for seeking mental health treatment. Mixed episodes, combining mania and depression, are possible.
Family history is crucial in diagnosing bipolar disorder due to increased risk. A comprehensive assessment of mood episodes, medical history, and substance use is necessary as various medications, drugs, and medical issues can cause manic-like symptoms.
Bipolar disorder is a brain-based biological illness, with medications (particularly mood stabilizers) being the primary treatment. I also emphasize sleep, exercise, and stress management as effective treatment. Consistent and sufficient sleep reduces future mood episodes, while exercise promotes good sleep, relieves stress, and helps manage anxiety, energy, or agitation.
Bipolar disorder is a significant mood disorder with lifelong impairments. Early evaluation and comprehensive treatment reduce and possibly eliminate future mood episodes. If you or a family member experience bipolar disorder symptoms, contact a mental health professional for evaluation. If you have questions, reach out, as help IS just a phone call away.
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