Understanding and Treating Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition characterized by periods of emotional highs, or mania, alternated with periods of profound depression. While there’s no cure for bipolar disorder, treatment can often help manage the symptoms of the disease.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

While doctors don’t know exactly what causes bipolar disorder, it appears to stem from a combination of factors. These include physical differences in the brain, an imbalance of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters, and family history (particularly those who have a sibling or parent with the condition). It’s more common among people who also have anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, addiction, heart disease, thyroid problems, or obesity.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

With this disorder, manic episodes last at least three days and are characterized by at least three of the following symptoms: delusions of grandeur, racing words or thoughts, decreased need for sleep, being easily distracted or agitated, intense work toward personal, social, or professional goals, and/or risky behavior, such as promiscuous sexuality or frivolous spending sprees. Depressive periods last two weeks or more and are characterized by at least five of the following signs: feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness, loss of interest in activities, significant weight loss or gain, change in sleeping habits, restlessness, lack of energy, excessive and inappropriate guilt, inability to concentrate, and suicidal thoughts or actions.

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder

For best results, bipolar disorder should be treated with a combination of medication and therapy. Effective medications may include mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and drugs to manage anxiety. Because bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, it’s important to keep taking your medications even if you feel well. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you determine triggers for periods of mania and depression and avoid these triggers. Some people with bipolar disorder benefit from interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, a protocol that helps stabilize sleep, activity, and mealtimes in an established routine.

If you or a loved one is experiencing signs of bipolar disorder, it’s important to partner with a psychiatric doctor who specializes in this disease. While it can take time to find a treatment that works best, the disorder is manageable for many who suffer from it.