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bipolar disorders

What is it?

What Causes it?

Signs / Symptoms

Treatment / Therapies

Bipolar Disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. There are three types of Bipolar Disorder. 
There are three types of Bipolar Disorders: 
•    Bipolar I Disorder
•    Bipolar II Disorder
•    Cyclothymic Disorder (also called Cyclothymia)
All three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels Moods range from periods of extremely “up”, elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very “down”, sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes. Bipolar Disorder is typically diagnosed during late adolescence (teen years) or early adulthood. Occasionally, bipolar symptoms can appear in children. Bipolar Disorder can also first appear during a woman’s pregnancy or following childbirth. Although the symptoms may vary over time, Bipolar Disorder usually requires lifelong treatment. Following a prescribed treatment plan can help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Researchers are studying the possible causes of Bipolar Disorder. Most agree that there is no single cause and it is likely that many factors contribute to a person’s likelihood of having the illness.

Brain Structure and Functioning: Some studies indicate that the brains of people with Bipolar Disorder may differ from the brains of people who do not have Bipolar Disorder or any other mental disorder. Learning more about these differences may help scientists understand Bipolar Disorder and determine which treatments will work best. At this time, health care providers base the diagnosis and treatment plan on a person’s symptoms and history, rather than brain imaging or other diagnostic tests.

Genetics: Some research suggests that people with certain genes are more likely to develop Bipolar Disorder. Research also shows that people who have a parent or sibling with Bipolar Disorder have an increased likelihood of having the disorder themselves. Many genes are involved, and no one gene can cause the disorder. Learning more about how genes play a role in bipolar disorder may help researchers develop new treatments.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

People with Bipolar Disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotion, changes in sleep patterns and activity levels, and uncharacteristic behavior, often without recognizing their likely harmful or undesirable effects. These distinct periods are called “mood episodes”.


Mood episodes are very different from the moods and behaviors that are typical for the person.  Episodes may last for several days or weeks.  During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day.


People experiencing a manic episode may:

  • feel very "up”, "high”, elated, irritable, or touchy

  • feel "jumpy" or "wired"

  • have a decreased need for sleep

  • have a loss of appetite

  • talk very fast about a lot of different things

  • think they can do a lot of things at once

  • engage in risky behaviors that show poor judgment, such as eating and drinking excessively, spending or giving away a lot of money, or having reckless sex

  • feel like they are unusually important, talented, or powerful

People experiencing a depressive episode may:

  • feel very sad, "down”, empty, worried, or hopeless

  • feel slowed down or restless

  • have trouble falling asleep, wake up too early, or sleep too much

  • experience increased appetite and weight gain

  • talk very slowly, feel like they have nothing to say, forget things

  • have trouble concentrating or making decisions

  • feel unable to do even simple things

  • have little interest in almost all activities

  • have a decreased or absent sex drive, or an inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia)

  • feel hopeless or worthless, think about death or suicide

Sometimes people experience both manic and depressive symptoms in the same episode. This kind of episode is called an episode with mixed features. People experiencing an episode with mixed features may feel very sad, empty, or hopeless, while, at the same time, feeling extremely energized.

A person may have Bipolar Disorder even if their symptoms are less extreme. For example, some people with Bipolar Disorder (Bipolar II) experience hypomania, a less severe form of mania. During a hypomanic episode, a person may feel very good, be able to get things done and keep up with day-to-day life. The person may not feel that anything is wrong, but family and friends may recognize the changes in mood or activity levels as possible Bipolar Disorder. Without proper treatment, people with hypomania can develop severe mania or depression.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 

Treatment can help many people, including those with the most severe forms of Bipolar Disorder. An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy, also called “talk therapy”.


Bipolar Disorder is a lifelong illness. Episodes of mania and depression typically come back over time. Between episodes, many people with Bipolar Disorder are free of mood changes, but some people may have lingering symptoms. Long-term, continuous treatment can help people manage these symptoms.     


Certain medications can help manage symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. Some people may need to try several different medications and work with their health care provider before finding medications that work best.


Medications generally used to treat Bipolar Disorder include mood stabilizers and second-generation (atypical) antipsychotics. Treatment plans may also include medications that target sleep or anxiety. Health care providers often prescribe antidepressant medication to treat depressive episodes in Bipolar Disorder, combining the antidepressant with a mood stabilizer to prevent triggering a manic episode. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional to discuss possible options & side effects.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

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