It's common for everyone to feel a little down every now and then.
It's not unusual to be overly elated occasionally. However, some
people suffer from extreme feelings of high and low and need help to
manage these major "ups and downs."
Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive illness, is a
psychiatric condition that causes drastic shifts in a person's mood,
energy level, and ability to function. The symptoms are severe, but
bipolar disorder can be treated, and people diagnosed with the
disorder can lead rich, productive lives.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), more
than two million Americans have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
This long-term illness may go undetected for years before it is
diagnosed and treated.
There is no known single cause for bipolar disorder, but heredity
seems to be a large risk factor. Research findings suggest that
bipolar disorder does not occur because of one gene, but rather many
genes acting together and with other combinations of the person's
Carolyn Turvey, assistant professor in the UI Department of
Psychiatry, UI Department of Psychiatry said the disorder doesn't
target one specific population.
"The main theory today is that bipolar disorder is a genetic
disorder," Turvey said. "People with a family member who has been
diagnosed with bipolar disorder may be more likely to develop the
Most people with bipolar disorder can manage the disorder with
long-term treatment. which includes medications usually prescribed by
a psychiatrist. Psychotherapy is also a form of treatment, but is
mainly used to help manage the disorder. Medications known as "mood
stabilizers," the most common being Lithium, are prescribed to help
control bipolar disorder. There are many different types of mood
stabilizing medications today, and when used for extended periods of
time, can produce positive results.
UI Hospitals and Clinics is part of a national NIMH-sponsored
study to identify genes that predispose individuals to develop
bipolar disorder. This study may ultimately lead to earlier detection
and improved treatment for this disorder. Individuals who have
bipolar disorder and who also have a brother or sister with this
condition are invited to participate in this study. For more
information about this study, call 888-850-8531.
Variety of symptoms
People living with bipolar disorder experience a variety of
symptoms, the most prevalent being drastic mood swings. This includes
extreme episodes of mania and depression. The NIMH classifies
symptoms of mania as:
- Increased energy
- Excessively "high" euphoric mood
- Extreme irritability
- Racing thoughts
- Lack of concentration
- Increased sexual drive
- Abuse of drugs
Symptoms of depression include:
- A lasting sad mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or helplessness
- Decreased energy
- Change in appetite
- Weight gain or loss
- Thoughts of death or suicide
In order to diagnose bipolar disorder, Turvey said that symptoms
of mania must last for a week and symptoms of depression must last
for two weeks.
Suicidal thoughts are common among people with bipolar disorder.
Signs and symptoms to look for that may accompany suicidal feelings
- Talking about feeling suicidal or wanting to die
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Feeling like a burden to family and friends
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
- Writing a suicide note
- Putting oneself in harm's way
If you or someone you know fits many of these criteria, call a
doctor or 911 immediately. It is important to understand that these
feelings are symptoms of the disorder and, with treatment, can be