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Living with Bipolar Disorder

Recently, a mental health condition known as bipolar disorder made front headlines when an “A-list” celebrity came forward and made his diagnosis known to the world. And although it’s been around for some time, do you actually know what bipolar disorder is? For many, many years, bipolar disorder was misconstrued with other mental illnesses and there wasn’t one solid diagnosis like there is today

Bipolar disorder is also more common than you think. In fact, 2.8 percent of adults living in the United States have been diagnosed with it. And the average age of people starting to show symptoms of having the disorder is 25 years old. As people live with this disorder, they may have trouble coping with simple, everyday tasks, such as struggling with school, completing tasks at work, or may have a hard time maintaining relationships. And while there is no cure for the lifelong illness, there are treatments available to help manage symptoms.

So, maybe you have a friend or family member that has been diagnosed with the disorder, but you don’t feel comfortable asking them questions about it. Well, look no further as we go into all the details behind this particular disorder.

What is bipolar disorder?

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Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotion highs, known as mania or hypomania, and extreme lows, also commonly known as depression. Luckily, if you’re in the medical field, CEUfast's Bipolar Disorder Course is designed to help you navigate your way around recognizing the disorder if you come into contact with someone that may have it.

You may find that many people don’t talk about bipolar disorder, or other mental illnesses, because they carry a negative stigma that someone who has it might be considered “crazy”. This is far from the truth, and people should learn more about it. For instance, did you know that bipolar disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Associations (APA), could come in seven different forms? Ranging from periods of hyper-energy to intervals of deeply morbid depression, there are several forms that bipolar disease can manifest and affect someone’s mood, energy and the ability to perform normal daily tasks.

The seven types of bipolar disorders include:

  • Bipolar I disorder
  • Bipolar II disorder
  • Cyclothymic disorder
  • Bipolar disorder due to other medical conditions
  • Substance/medication-induced bipolar disorder
  • Other specified bipolar disorder
  • Unspecified bipolar disorder

If you’re like the average Joe, you may not have known there were several categories of bipolar disorder. So, to break it down into a little more detail, here’s what each type means:

  • Bipolar I disorder: A patient must have experienced at least one manic episode, but not necessarily had a major depressive episode; during this manic episode, patients may report a sharper sense of sight, smell and hearing. They may also become hostile, delusional and verbally threatening.
  • Bipolar II disorder: With this diagnosis, a patient must have had at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but have never experienced a manic episode.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Although less severe than major depression, with this disorder the patient must have had at least two years of multiple periods of hypomania symptoms and periods of depressive symptoms.
  • Other specified & Unspecified bipolar disorder: This is a category that was created for bipolar disorder patients that don’t quite fit the mold on the other categories but still exhibit symptoms of the disorder

If you’re in the medical field, it’s also important to check and evaluate for underlying medical conditions that can imitate symptoms of the bipolar disorder. These conditions include: Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, brain tumor, cerebrovascular disease, cryptococcosis, Cushing’s syndrome, epilepsy, head trauma, Huntington’s disease, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, pernicious anemia, syphilis and systemic lupus erythematosus.

Now that we fully understand what bipolar disorder is, let’s dive into the details of what signs and symptoms to look for while getting a proper diagnosis.

Symptoms & Treatment

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Mental illnesses, according to the APA, are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior, and can be associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. Having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s a medical problem, just like having heart disease or diabetes.

And just like any other medical issue, there are signs and symptoms associated with bipolar disorder to help medical professionals diagnose the problem and provide proper medical treatment for the patient. With bipolar disorder, there are typically three major types of bipolar mood episodes: manic, hypomanic, and major depressive episodes.

  • Manic Episode: When there is a period of elevated, expansive, or irritable mood that’s often associated with goal-directed activity or energy, this is known as “mania.” Uncontrollable shopping sprees, unsafe sexual encounters, or foolish business investments might be some signs of this feeling. Patients can often feel rested after only three hours of sleep and may present with pressured speech. During this period of time, three or more of these symptoms are usually present: inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, more talkative than usual, racing thoughts, distractibility, increase in goal-directed activity, and excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences.
  • Hypomanic Episode: This type of episode is similar to the manic episode, except it has a shorter duration and does not include psychosis. During the hypomanic episode, the mood disturbance isn’t as severe and shouldn’t impair the patient’s social or occupational functioning. For symptoms, you should follow the same symptoms as the manic episode.
  • Major Depressive Episode: Symptoms of a depressive episode vary widely from patient to patient. For instance, some patients may appear slowed down while others may sob uncontrollably; some may even deny subjective feelings of sadness and just feel as though they are losing interest in hobbies. Some of the symptoms include: feeling depressed most of the day, showing great disinterest in activities or hobbies, significant weight loss or decrease or increase of appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness, or recurrent thoughts of death.

Many people live with bipolar disorder and don’t recognize it. Therefore, getting proper help and treatment goes unfulfilled. By seeing a medical professional and getting a condition properly diagnosed, a patient can start to see the benefits of the disease they are currently feeling. Patients that may be displaying manic episodes of poor judgment and pose a serious risk to themselves or those around them may require inpatient treatment. Other treatments vary by degree of the situation, but typically, medication can be used to shift the patient’s biochemistry back towards a state of remission, and then patients should continue with regular checkups and therapy. Patients may be tempted to stop treatment, but medical professionals should suggest not doing so. Stopping medications can cause withdrawal effects or the symptoms may worsen or return.

Although there’s no way to prevent bipolar disorder, there are ways to spot early signs of it and seek help before things get out of hand. If you or someone you suspect might be showing signs of bipolar disorder, pay attention to the warning signs. Look for patterns and triggers, and be sure to consult a medical professional if there’s an episode of depression or mania. As previously mentioned, bipolar disorder is a real illness, just like if you were to get diagnosed with diabetes. So, by treating it as a real illness, you may find that there’s hope on the other side of the tunnel.