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About Bipolar Disorder
Welcome to the Bipolar Health Channel by eMedTV. Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depressive illness because it is a brain disorder involving episodes, or cycles, of mania and depression. Between episodes, most people with bipolar disorder are free of symptoms, but as many as one-third have some residual symptoms. Bipolar disorder is often not recognized as an illness, and people may suffer for years before it is properly diagnosed and treated. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person's life.
What Are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder symptoms range from overly "high" feelings (mania) to deep sadness and hopelessness (depression). These symptoms can vary across the spectrum of moods, and may include symptoms of psychosis. In addition, symptoms of bipolar disorder may appear to be problems other than mental illness, such as drug or alcohol abuse, poor work performance, or strained relationships.
Examples of symptoms of mania (or a manic episode) include the following:
  • Increased energy, activity, and restlessness
  • Excessively "high," overly good, euphoric mood
  • Extreme irritability
  • A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual
  • Increased sexual drive
  • Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior.
Symptoms of depression (or a depressive episode) may include:
  • Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or of being "slowed down"
  • Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.
How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated?
Most people with bipolar disorder -- even those with the most severe forms -- can achieve substantial stabilization of their mood swings and related symptoms with proper treatment. Because bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness, a long-term preventive treatment for this condition is strongly recommended. In most cases, treating bipolar disorder involves a combination of medication and psychosocial treatments.
In situations where medication, psychosocial treatment, or the combination of these interventions proves ineffective or works too slowly to relieve severe symptoms, such as psychosis or suicidality, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used to treat bipolar disorder.
What Medications Are Used to Treat Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is often treated using "mood-stabilizing" medicines. Examples of mood stabilizers include lithium and anticonvulsant medications, such as valproate (Depakote®). Other medications are added when necessary -- typically for shorter periods -- to treat episodes of mania or depression that break through despite the mood stabilizer.
What Psychosocial Treatments Are Used to Treat Bipolar Disorder?
Studies have shown that psychosocial treatments can lead to increased mood stability, fewer hospitalizations, and improved functioning in several areas for those people with bipolar disorder.
Psychosocial interventions commonly used for bipolar disorder include:
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Psychoeducation
  • Family therapy
  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (a newer technique).
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