Bipolar disorder tends to have somewhat of a stigma surrounding it. This can lead sufferers or their families with little information on how to deal with it, because they are afraid to ask questions. Bipolar disorder was once known as, manic depression. It is one of the most serious forms of mental illness and affects one to five percent of all people in the United States.
The disorder can take years to properly diagnose and there is no cure. People with bipolar disorder need long-term care and medication to manage their symptoms. They also need a wide range of support from therapists, family, and friends. With good quality care and medication compliance, sufferers can live a happy life. Read on to learn more about bipolar disorder and how to manage the condition.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness that comes with very severe mood swings. One day the sufferer may be “manic” and have large amounts of energy and very vivid emotions. The next day they go into a “low” or depression phase. The periods can last up to a few hours, days, or months. Some people swing rapidly from cycle to cycle, others remain in a cycle for long periods of time.
One of the main symptoms of bipolar disorder is the cycling of moods or mood swings from low to high. The symptoms vary by which phase the sufferer is in:
Manic Episode During these periods there can be happiness that is over-the-top, hyperactivity, very little sleep, racing speech, and thoughts. The person may also be very irritable. This can also include impulsive behavior such as excessive spending of money, poor sexual judgement, high-risk activities, and unplanned travel.
Depressive Episode During depressive episodes there is withdrawal, social isolation, patients feel very sad, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, no energy, and lack of interest.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
It’s not exactly known what causes bipolar disorder, but there are some common traits in sufferers that point to possible causes:
Genetics If the sufferer has a parent, brother, or sister with the condition.
Brain Neurotransmission This is perhaps due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Brain ChangesPeople with bipolar disorders have an appearance of changes in the brain tissue. It is not yet understood what causes these changes.
Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder
While the cause is still being researched, there are certain risk factors that point to higher incidence of bipolar disorder. These include:
Brain structure and the way it functions
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is more easily diagnosed today than it was years ago. The symptoms can often cross over and appear to be other depressive disorders, but doctors are much better at identifying the symptoms nowadays.
To diagnose bipolar disorder, the doctor will ask a series of questions that point to one of the types. These include:
Very severe mood swings from depression to mania.
Mildly elevated moods
Hypomania (mild mania)
Some periods of severe depression
Some periods of hypomania
Short periods of milder depression
Symptoms occur together; mania, depression, and hypomania
Increased energy levels
Four or more mood swings in a 12 month time period
Mood episodes last more than a few days
Mood swings that occur in a single week or day
Bipolar Disorder Treatment
Bipolar disorder is best treated with combination therapy of medications and psychotherapy. These include:
Mood Stabilizers Some anti-seizure medications such as valproic acid and lamotrigine can help stabilize moods. Lithium is an older mood stabilizer and has been very effective. The only issue with lithium is it can be toxic and needs to be monitored with lab work.
Antipsychotics Early in treatment, antipsychotics may be needed to stabilize severe symptoms. Drugs used are risperidone, onlanzipine, and quetiapine. These are usually only used short-term until the patient is stabilized on a mood stabilizer, which can take up to a month to start working.
Antidepressants Some patients need to take regular antidepressants to help with symptoms. These can help with depressive symptoms and mania.
Lifestyle Changes for Bipolar Disorder
Once a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is made, a few lifestyle changes can make the disorder easier to live with. These include:
Stress Keep life as simple as possible and learn how to manage stress.
Schedule Write down appointments and try to keep life as routine as possible.
Exercise Exercise can be very beneficial. Take walks, go to yoga, or swim.
Diet Eat a nutritious diet and avoid processed and fast food.
Caffeine Reduce your intake of caffeine. This can relieve anxiety and insomnia.
Relaxation Learn techniques to help you relax like meditation and deep breathing.
Natural Remedies for Bipolar Disorder
There are a few natural and alternative home remedies that can help with your treatment. It is important to check with your doctor and discuss any of these you wish to take. There may be interactions or the disorder can get worse if you go completely off conventional medications. Some natural remedies include:
St. John’s Wort This is a natural antidepressant. There can be drug interactions with other prescription antidepressants. In some, St. John’s Wort triggers manic episodes.
Magnesium Magnesium can be a natural relaxant and help with manic and anxiety symptoms.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fish oils or Omega-3 supplements may help alleviate depression. This is because statistics show that there is less depression in societies where fish is a large part of the diet.
Acupuncture It hasn’t been proven, but in Chinese medicine there are ways to place acupuncture needles to relieve depression and anxiety symptoms.
Notes: Never stop your medications or stop going to therapy. Always talk to your doctor about your treatment plan before making any changes.
Bipolar Disorder Prevention
There is no way to prevent the onset of bipolar disorder. To prevent recurrent episodes, continue you treatment plan, medications, and therapy. If you have a stressful life event (trigger) get in touch with your doctor and therapist right away for help.
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