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Bipolar disorder is a serious disease that causes radical swings in the mood, energy, and functioning of an individual. If left untreated, bipolar disorder usually tends to get worse. However, people with bipolar disorder can lead healthy and productive lives when the illness is effectively treated.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a serious brain disease that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. Bipolar disorder is different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through -- the symptoms of bipolar disorder are more severe.
Bipolar disorder affects approximately 2.3 million adult Americans -- about 1.2 percent of the population. Men and women are equally likely to develop this disabling illness. It typically emerges in adolescence or early adulthood, but in some cases appears in childhood.
There is a tendency to romanticize bipolar disorder. Many artists, musicians, and writers have suffered from its mood swings. But, in truth, many lives are ruined by this disease. Without effective treatment, bipolar disorder is associated with an increased risk of suicide.
Episodes of mania and depression typically recur throughout the affected person's lifespan. Between episodes, most people with bipolar disorder are free of symptoms (see Bipolar Disorder Symptoms). However, as many as one-third of people have some residual symptoms between bipolar episodes. A small percentage of people experience chronic, unremitting symptoms even with treatment.
The classic form of bipolar disorder, which involves recurrent episodes of mania and depression, is called bipolar I disorder. Some people, however, never develop severe mania, but instead experience milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with depression. This form of the illness is called bipolar II disorder.
When four or more episodes of bipolar illness occur within a 12-month period, a person is said to have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder. Some people experience multiple episodes within a single week, or even within a single day. Rapid cycling tends to develop later in the course of the illness and is more common among women than among men.
People with bipolar disorder can lead healthy and productive lives when the illness is effectively treated (see Bipolar Disorder Treatment). Without treatment, however, the natural course of bipolar disorder tends to worsen. Over time, a person may suffer more frequent (more rapid-cycling) and more severe manic and depressive episodes than those experienced when the illness first appeared. In most cases, however, proper treatment can help reduce the frequency and severity of episodes and can help people with bipolar disorder maintain a good quality of life.