Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Mood swings are a normal part of everyday life. Those with a bipolar disorder however, the mood swings are more dramatic. Bipolar affects more than two million Americans. That is about three out of every one hundred adults. It affects people without regard to race, gender, age, or education. Not everyone has the same symptoms and there isn’t any blood test to confirm a diagnosis. Some scientists believe that chemicals in the brain are out of balance. Stress can set these imbalances into motion.

Bipolar disorder and major depression are often confused. They are not the same disorders. The difference is that in addition to a depressive phase, one with bipolar experiences the high of a manic phase. In the manic phase of the bipolar disorder, the person may show any of these symptoms:

  • irritability or edgy for a week or longer
  • feeling restless and a decreased need for sleep
  • lots of energy
  • talking excessively, quickly, and loud
  • racing thoughts
  • easily distracted
  • unable to focus or concentrate
  • dong reckless things without a care
  • poor judgment
  • beliefs of great power and abilities
  • some people also might see or hear things, and have feelings of persecution

In most cases, medication can help manage the symptoms. In severe cases, a doctor might recommend a hospital stay for treatment. The energetic high of a manic episode can be so intense, that the person has trouble handling normal life. Relationships can break down because the person with bipolar disorder feels aggressive and irritable and can’t concentrate on life. The unrealistic excitement can lead to risky behavior such as maxing out credit cards, inappropriate sexual activity, and feelings of invincibility. After the manic phase ends, often the person will slip into a deep depression.

A week or so later after a manic phase, the person with the bipolar disorder doesn’t have the energy to crawl out of bed. Everyone feels blue sometimes. In the depressive phase of bipolar, the person feels empty and hopeless for no particular reason. It may last for weeks or months. Many people are diagnosed incorrectly, but a history of manic times is what sets bipolar disorder apart as a unique illness. During the depression phase, normal activities aren’t interesting any longer. The symptoms of the depressive phase are:

  • changes in appetite or weight
  • trouble sleeping or waking up
  • difficulty making decisions
  • feeling lazy, tired, yet restless
  • feeling worthless, hopeless, yet guilty
  • in extreme cases thoughts of dying or suicide

Prescription medications for bipolar are intended to stabilize the moods and manage symptoms. It might take a while before the person feels them working, but it is important to stay on the medications even if the person feels better. Because of the medication is usually the reason the person feels better. Talking openly with the doctor about concerns and treatment plans is far better than going off the medications. Bipolar disorder is a chronic lifelong condition that requires long-term treatment.

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