Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by extreme shifts in a person’s emotions. Sometimes a person with bipolar disorder will experience an immensely elevated and energetic mood called mania. But they can also experience severe depression. These dramatic emotional shifts can last for weeks—or months.
People who have bipolar disorder may find it challenging to simply complete everyday tasks at work or school, and often their relationships suffer. Sometimes person with bipolar disorder will have episodes of mood swings several times a year, while other people may rarely experience them.
About 2.5% of the U.S. population has some form of bipolar disorder. There’s no cure, but there are treatments available that can help manage the symptoms and improve quality of life for the person with bipolar disorder.
The American Psychiatric Association categorizes bipolar disorders into four types:
This type is also called manic-depressive disorder. It is characterized by a cycling pattern of depression and mania. According to the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Update (DSM-5 Update), mania is a “distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood and abnormally and persistently increased activity or energy, lasting at least 1 week and present most of the day, nearly every day (or any duration if hospitalization is necessary)”.
This type includes a pattern of depressive episodes as well as hypomanic episodes. Hypomanic episodes are less severe than manic episodes. However, note that this is not considered a more mild form of Bipolar I, but rather a different condition.
Includes periods of hypomania and periods of depressive symptoms that last for at least two years. It is a less severe type of bipolar disorder.
There are also people who have bipolar disorder, but it does not fit specifically into the three categories here.
To help a doctor properly diagnose you, take note of your symptoms as well as when they are occurring. If you are experiencing any of the problems listed here and they are not going away—or are becoming worse—make an appointment to see a mental health specialist or medical professional as soon as possible:
• Extremely high energy levels
• Feeling restless
• Insomnia or not feeling need to sleep
• Racing thoughts
• Risky behaviors
• Talking fast and/or loudly
• Decreased activity
• Have considered suicide
• Lack of appetite or changes in eating habits
• Loss of interest in social activities
• Sleeping too much or not enough
• Trouble concentrating
Treatments for bipolar disorder can include medication, psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, or a combination of these treatments. Usually treatment begins with a medication to help get episodes under control, then after a patient has stabilized, other treatments are used.
Getting exercise, meditation and breathing exercises—can be beneficial to someone who has bipolar disorder. However, people with a bipolar disorder should work with their doctor and a mental health professional to get optimal care, tailored to their individual type of bipolar disorder.
Mood stabilizers are often the first drugs used to treat bipolar disorder. Historically, lithium has been one of the most common and effective medications that is used. Other examples of mood stabilizers (anticonvulsants) are:
• Divalproex Sodium (Depakote)
• Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
• Valproic Acid (Depakene)
Antipsychotic medications are also used to treat manic episodes. Examples include:
• Aripiprazole (Abilify)
• Asenapine (Saphris)
• Olanzapine (Zyprexa)
• Lurasidone (Latuda)
• Quetiapine (Seroquel)
• Risperidone (Risperdal)
Antidepressants are also often prescribed to help people with anxiety symptoms or substance abuse, as well as a category of anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines.
Not everyone reacts to medications in the same way, and finding the right medication to treat bipolar disorder may take some trial and error. In fact, up to half of all patients do not respond as desired (and some even experience adverse reactions) to the first psychiatric medication they’re prescribed. This is due in part to their individual genetic makeup (their DNA).
In very recent years, however, scientists have identified innovative ways to use genetic testing to help personalize medicine, so it better meets the needs of individual patients—and can help healthcare providers make informed treatment decisions for patients who have bipolar disorder.
The information revealed by a patient’s DNA can also help a doctor better understand if a patient might experience negative side effects or adverse drug reactions, and avoid those options.
This remarkable science is already helping people suffering from debilitating bipolar disorder, helping them gain peace of mind and better control of their lives, and be more informed than ever before.
Truschel, Jessica, and Henry A. Montero. “Bipolar Definition and DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria.” Psycom.net - Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986, Remedy Health Media, 21 Oct. 2019, https://www.psycom.net/bipolar-definition-dsm-5/.
“DSM-5® Update October 2018.” Psychiatry Online, American Psychiatric Association , Oct. 2018, https://psychiatryonline.org/pb-assets/dsm/update/DSM5Update_October2018.pdf.
Bhandari, Smitha. “Bipolar I Disorder Symptoms, Treatments, Causes, and More.” WebMD, WebMD, 8 Nov. 2017, https://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/bipolar-1-disorder#1.
With good information, you can better understand how these conditions may affect you, your loved one or your patient. The better informed you are, the better you can advocate. Learn more by clicking the topics below: