Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness which can cause a person to experience extremely low periods of depression followed by feelings of soaring elation. This elevated mood is often known as mania or hypomania depending on it severity. The condition used to be known as manic depression but was renamed as bipolar disorder, a relatively common condition that is estimated to affect around one in every hundred adults within their lifetime.
The signs and symptoms of bipolar will differ greatly depending on the mood of the patient. Because of the extreme changes between stages of the disorder, those suffering from bipolar may find it difficult to hold down a job or meaningful relationships. For those in the depressive stage, the following symptoms may be present;
When a person experiences the other side of bipolar - the mania/hypomania phase, they may experience the following symptoms, some of which can be pleasant but often extremely overwhelming and difficult to control.
Within both depressive and manic stages of the illness, there may be psychotic symptoms present which can include hallucinations, delusions of thought and inability to communicate effectively due to the speed of speech and racing thoughts.
It is unknown exactly what causes bipolar, but it has been linked to certain factors such as stress, genetics and life-changing events which can all increase the chance of developing the condition. Extreme trauma in childhood (including abuse, neglect, the death of a family member) has been prevalent in many bipolar sufferers, due to the difficulty in regulating emotions after experiencing high levels of stress early in life.
Other causes can be attributed to difficult times in adult life such as a relationship breakdown or loss of someone close, which can trigger the symptoms of bipolar disorder. The genetic link between those with bipolar has been researched heavily, and it seems that a person is more likely to experience depressive and manic symptoms if a member of their family also suffers from the illness. However, this often isn’t formally diagnosed, and could be reflective of the environment that a person grows up in and the behaviour their family members display.
There are different types and level of bipolar disorder, the below being the most commonly diagnosed.
Patients may be diagnosed with Bipolar I if they have experienced at least one episode of mania which has lasted longer than a week. Some people might also experience depressive episodes - although this is not applicable to everyone.
Bipolar II patients will have experiences at least one bout of extreme depression and symptoms of hypomania.
People experiencing rapid cycling will find their moods swing faster between depressive and manic and more than four mood swings will occur within a year.
A person may be told they have cyclothymia if they have had both depressive and hypomanic moods over the course of 2 years or beyond. These symptoms will not be extreme enough to diagnose Bipolar I or II but it is important to recognise that left untreated, cyclothymia can develop into a more severe form of bipolar personality disorder.
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