Friday, June 8, 2007

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Faye B. Roberts

Bipolar disorder, known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that creates unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Bipolar disorder causes dramatic mood swings—from overly "high" and/or irritability to sadness and hopelessness, and then back again, and can have periods of normal moods in between. Severe changes in behavior and energy go along with these changes in mood. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes of mania and depression. It is far different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through because the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe.

About 2.6 percent of the population age 18 and older have bipolar disorder. It typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood however some people develop it later in life. Bipolar disorder is often not recognized as an illness because it is episodic and people may suffer for years before it is properly diagnosed and treated.

Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often destroys the desire and will to live. Biological in its origins, it feels psychological during an episode. It is an illness that is unique in that it confers advantage and pleasure at one end of the scale, but it brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and often suicide.

Symptoms of a manic episodes include:

* Increased energy, activity, restlessness, and extreme irritability
* Excessively "high," overly pleasant, euphoric mood
* Racing thoughts and fast speech patterns, jumping from one idea to another
* Can't concentrate well
* Needing very little sleep
* Unrealistic beliefs in one's powers and capabilities
* Poor judgment
* Excessive spending sprees
* A lasting period of behavior that is unusual
* Increased sex drive
* Abuse of drugs, particularly alcohol, cocaine, and sleeping medications
* Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior

Symptoms of a depressive episodes include the exact opposite:

* Lasting periods of sadness, anxiety , or feelings of emptiness
* Feelings of pessimism
* Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
* Loss of interest in sex
* Decreased energy
* Difficulty in concentration
* Restlessness or irritability
* Sleeping too much,and/or can't sleep
* Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain
* Chronic pain and other bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury
* Thoughts of death or suicide.

But there is good news: bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person's life.

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