Bipolar Disorder Basics

Daily Health Solutions
on December 13, 2011

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder and mental illness. It's also known as manic-depressive disorder and affects about 10 million Americans. The disorder affects both men and women, causing severe mood swings between depression and mania. Mania is a heightened state of mood that may cause extreme elation, an intense energy level, confusion, poor judgment and other inappropriate behaviors.

What is bipolar disorder? The National Alliance on Mental Illness lists bipolar disorder as a "medical illness that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning." It's a chronic illness often requiring some form of lifelong treatment. Bipolar disorder generally manifests during the teen years or early adulthood, but it can appear in children as well.

Who's affected? Bipolar disorder doesn't distinguish between the sexes. It can affect males or females and often runs in families. According to the Mayo Clinic, you're more likely to be affected with bipolar disorder if you abuse drugs or alcohol, suffer from severe stress, or have experienced a major life change such as a loved one's death or even giving birth. In addition, insomnia and certain antidepressant medications may trigger mania, a condition of bipolar disorder.

Types of bipolar disorder. Type 1 used to be called manic depression. It's defined by a combination of manic and depressive episodes. Type 2 doesn't include major manic episodes, but is mostly depressive issues that shift with hypomania, a less severe form of mania that's often difficult to diagnose because it can appear as simple joy. BP-NOS is Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It means the illness's symptoms don't fit bipolar 1 or 2. Cyclothymic disorder causes episodes of hypomania combined with mild depression. It's considered a mild form of bipolar disorder.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be broken down into two categories: depression and mania.

Depression symptoms. Depression symptoms may include anxiety, loss of appetite and loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed. Sleep issues may occur including excessive sleeping or insomnia. Other symptoms may be more severe including physical pains and thoughts of suicide.

Mania symptoms. Like depression, mania symptoms also affect both mood and behavior. Symptoms include feelings of extreme elation shifted with feelings of extreme irritation or anxiety. Mania can cause lost focus, unrealistic thoughts and irrational, impulsive behavior. People suffering from mania might act like extreme over-achievers, tackling projects and taking high risks with business ventures.

Bipolar disorder may be treated with medication and psychotherapy. If you suspect you or a loved is suffering from bipolar disorder, consult your physician.