You’ve heard of mood swings—rapid, unexplained transitions from one mood to another. You’ve heard of depression—persistent, overwhelming feelings of sadness. But you may be unfamiliar with bipolar disorder or manic depression.
Depression and mania
“Depression is much more common than bipolar disorder,” says Dr. Terry Gevedon, director of the UK HealthCare Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic. “In addition, someone with bipolar disorder may start out having several depressive episodes before having the first manic episode, which defines the diagnosis. Making that diagnosis is crucial because different treatment is necessary than for depression alone.”
Bipolar disorder is a tale of two extremes: mania and depression. At one extreme, the affected person is euphoric, reckless, and hyper. At the other extreme, he or she is listless, hopeless, and withdrawn. The manic or depressive states may last for weeks or months and can greatly disrupt the lives of the affected person and those around them.
“During a manic episode, a person may behave inappropriately, straining relationships at work and at home. He or she may spend money indiscriminately and end up in debt, or jeopardize self or others with dangerous behavior, such as driving recklessly,” Gevedon says. “When depressed, he or she may be unable to get out of bed to care for family or go to work, and may feel hopeless, even suicidal.”
Symptoms and severity vary from person to person. Common symptoms of the manic phase include:
• Euphoria, a sense of being invincible, on top of the world.
• Racing thoughts, rapid speech, hyperactivity, and decreased need for sleep.
• Diminished judgment. Reckless or risky behavior, which may include spending sprees or drug and alcohol abuse.
• Aggressive behavior.
During the depressive phase, symptoms swing to the other extreme and may include:
• Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
• Exhaustion, irritability, and loss of interest in activities.
• Thoughts of suicide.
Treatment and follow-up
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but may be related to chemical imbalances in the brain. Genetic factors also play a role in bipolar disorder, as more than 75 percent of those with bipolar disorder have some family history of depression. Drug abuse and traumatic events may trigger bipolar episodes. Even certain over-the-counter medications such as so-called diet pills may trigger an episode.
Prescription medications and psychotherapy are often used in conjunction to treat bipolar disorder. Medications help stabilize the mood, and include lithium, anti-seizure medications, and antidepressants. Talking with a therapist can help the affected person recognize episode triggers and devise strategies for coping with stress. Support groups for those with bipolar disorder and their families may also be helpful.
Those diagnosed with bipolar disorder should continue receiving care, even if he or she is feeling better.
• Continue taking medications as prescribed by your physician.
• Identify and heed the warning signs of episodes. Make your family aware of the warning signs.
• Avoid use of drugs and alcohol as these may trigger episodes.
• Check carefully for drug interactions before taking other prescription medications.
It is important to remember that bipolar disorder can be managed with medications and therapy. If a loved one is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, please talk with your doctor. If you’d like help finding a doctor or to make an appointment, call UK HealthCare at (859) 257-1000 or (800) 333-8874.