Bipolar disorder used to be called manic-depressive disorder. It causes extreme changes in mood, thinking, and behavior. There are usually two phases, a manic phase and a depressed phase. In the manic phase you feel highly energized and are very active. In the depressed phase you are very depressed. Most people with bipolar disorder have these severe mood swings many times during their lives. Some people have mostly manic phases. Others may have mostly depressed phases. Some people have a mix of manic and depressed symptoms.
About 1% of people develop bipolar disorder. It usually begins during the young adult years. About as many men as women get bipolar disorder.
The exact causes of the disorder are unclear. However, it does run in families. If you have relatives with bipolar disorder, you are more likely to have it.
Parts of the brain may not work normally during manic and depressive episodes. But exactly what triggers these switches is unclear.
If you are a woman, episodes may be more likely right before your monthly period or after the birth of a child.
During a manic episode you may:
If you have a very intense manic episode, you may also have symptoms like confusion, delusions (ideas that aren't true), or hallucinations (see or hear things that are not there).
A manic episode may be followed by a period of normal mood and behavior or a period of depression.
During a period of depression, you may:
These symptoms may last for days or weeks. Rapid cycling patterns are defined by 4 or more mood disturbances (major depressive, mixed, manic, or hypomanic episodes) in a year.
You may also have what is called a mixed episode. A mixed episode is mania with depressed symptoms at the same time. In a mixed episode you may be overly active, withdraw from others, feel worthless, and cry often.
Your healthcare provider or mental health therapist will ask about your symptoms and any drug or alcohol use. You may have lab tests to rule out medical problems such as hormone imbalances.
Medicines are the most effective treatment for bipolar disorder. If an episode is severe, you may need to spend some time in a hospital.
Several types of mood stabilizing medicines can help treat bipolar disorder. Your healthcare provider will work with you to carefully select the best one for you.
Sometimes you may need other medicines. Your provider may prescribe an antidepressant, an antipsychotic, or an antianxiety medicine. However, it is possible that symptoms may become worse if you take antidepressants.
There are no nonprescription medicines for bipolar disorder.
Counseling and psychotherapy are usually very helpful. They help you learn how to maintain a positive lifestyle and attitude, which can reduce your episodes.
Natural Remedies and Alternative Treatments
Omega-3 fatty acids may help to reduce symptoms of depression. No herbal or natural remedies are effective in treating bipolar disorder.
Controlling stress, keeping to a regular sleep schedule, having friends or family to support you, and being more relaxed may help manage manic or depressive episodes.
Bipolar disorder may last a lifetime. Symptoms may also become more frequent as people age. Follow the treatment prescribed. Bipolar disorder can be managed even if it is not cured.
If you are showing the signs of either a manic or depressive episode, seek professional help quickly. Do not try to treat your illness by yourself. Professional treatment is necessary. If bipolar disorder is not treated, it tends to get worse. The mania and depression can be more severe and episodes happen more often. Most of the time, you will feel much better after a few weeks of treatment.
Get emergency care if you or a loved one has serious thoughts of suicide or harming others. Also get emergency help if manic behavior becomes so wild that it endangers you or others.