What is Bipolar? Bipolar Disorder Overview


What is Bipolar Disorder?

People who experience extremes in mood changing are often attributed to people who have bipolar disorder or also known as manic depression. This mental illness also causes drastic changes in the behavior, cognition, energy, and sleep cycle of a person.

The term bipolar boils down to the two poles of mood that a person feels, namely the high and low. There are periods when a person will feel ecstatic and extremely energized. There are also periods when the person feels depressed and hopeless up to the point that they consider suicide. But there are also times when a person will tend to feel normal. 

The manic behavior of being highly confident and happy may involve serious conditions of irritability and impulsiveness. This often leads to imprudence and reckless decision-making.

Why Does Someone Develop Bipolar Disorder?

Up until now, there is still no clear-cut answer as to what causes bipolar disorder. But according to researchers and doctors, several factors may contribute such as genetic factors. Families who have a history of bipolar disorder are more prone than those who do not. The structure of the brain, as well as its physiology, can also affect the probability of having bipolar disorder.

According to the statistics generated by the National Institute of Mental health, around 5.7 million of American adults suffer from Bipolar Disorder. Altogether, it comprises about 2.6% of the entire U.S. population of 18 years old and above. 

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Clear changes in the levels of energy, activity, and mood are evaluated and characterized into four basic types. The periods range from manic episodes to depressive episodes. The less severe manic periods are not categorized here but it is called hypomanic episodes. 

1. Bipolar I Disorder 

This manic episode lasts for at least 7 days and intense symptoms often lead to the need for immediate hospital care. Depressive episodes can occur too and may last for about 2 weeks or even more. However, it is also possible for a person to experience mixed features of depressive episodes. One that involves having depression and manic symptoms simultaneously.

2. Bipolar II Disorder 

Unlike the first type, this one involves a pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes. However, the episodes are not full-blown as compared to the symptoms of Bipolar I Disorder.

3. Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia

This involves long term effects which can last up to 2 years for adults and 1 year for adolescents and children. Throughout this period of time, a person may experience numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms. But based on standard diagnostic requirements, the symptoms experienced in this type do not fit for both hypomanic and depressive episodes.

4. Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders

Other occurring symptoms that do not fit the 3 types above are classified under this type. 

Signs and Symptoms of Mania: The “highs” of Bipolar Disorder

• Elevated mood, heightened self-confidence and optimism

• Irritated and aggressive behavior

• Unfatigued body even with decreased sleep

• Overthinking and extravagant sense of self-importance

• Racing speech, ideas, and thoughts

• Lack of focus and poor judgment

• Reckless behavior

• Delusions and hallucinations

Signs and Symptoms of Depression: The “lows of Bipolar Disorder

• Long moments of extreme sadness and unexplained crying sessions

• Drastic changes in sleeping and eating patterns

• Irritability and agitation

• Anxiety, pessimism, and indifference

• Guilt and worthlessness

• Lack of concentration and indecisiveness

• Social withdrawal

• Unexplained pains in the body

• Suicidal thoughts

Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

For people who struggle with this disorder, it is important to lend a hand and lead them to have healthy and productive lives. The first step towards bipolar disorder treatment is for the person to accept that he or she needs help from a professional. A licensed mental health professional has the ability to diagnose a person with bipolar disorder. Physical exams are carried out as well as mental health evaluations. If symptoms are worse than expected, the mental health professional may refer the person to a psychiatrist who specializes in treating bipolar disorder.

It is important to note that most often, people consult a psychiatrist whenever they experience depression and manic episodes are often misinterpreted as normal. Health care providers need to assess the medical history of the patient and carefully diagnose if the person has a bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is also confused with just depression alone. And in rare cases, it is also confused with mixed features of major depressive disorders.

Bipolar Disorder and Other Illnesses

Since the symptoms of bipolar disorder converge with other illnesses, it makes the job of diagnosing a patient difficult. In some cases, people tend to have multiple disorders such as anxiety disorder, eating disorder, and substance abuse together with bipolar disorder. Due to the harmful symptoms of bipolar disorder, it can lead to some other complications such as heart disease, obesity, thyroid disease, migraine, and other physical disorders.

Risk Factors of Bipolar Disorder

For convention, scientists agree to the notion that there are a lot of factors that contribute to bipolar disorder and here are just some of those:

Brain Structure and Functioning

In some research, brain images of normal people were compared to people having bipolar disorder. They found out that there are differences in the structure of the brain thereby leading to a change in the brain physiology or function. With the advancement of science, scientists are now using genetic data to correlate the symptoms to the disorder. Only when the disease is fully understood, then treatment of Bipolar Disorder will not be a problem.


Scientists are now tracing the genealogy of a person and certain genes are traced. These genes are tested and analyzed if it actually has an effect on the person suffering from Bipolar Disorder. But the problem here is that a disorder is not just based on genetic analysis of a person. In a recent study, twins are subjected to a psychological experiment. The data summarized that it is not most likely that when one of the twins develop the disorder, the other will also develop it too. This causes confusion to researchers now because twins are known to have the same set of genes.

Family History

Heredity can contribute a lot in diagnosing if a person has Bipolar Disorder or not. This disorder runs in families. Children are most likely to have the disorder if one of their parents suffer from the disease. 

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