Detecting Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is one of many types of mood disorders affecting people of all ages and both genders

What is Bipolar Disorder? Bipolar Disorder is a psychological illness in which the brain chemicals are imbalanced, causing difficulty controlling moods or having abnormal thoughts.  Bipolar Disorder works closely with Major Manic Depressive Disorder, where sufferers will go back and forth between the two phases.  Bipolar I is the most severe type of Bipolar Disorder - the sufferer has several days or even weeks of mania, where thoughts are hard to control and aggression can be exhibited, followed by a major depressive episode where moods are extremely low.  Bipolar II is milder - the sufferer has several days of a hypomanic episode, where he or she might be able to even function better than normal because of having an extremely positive mindset or the need to be productive that comes from a hyperactive state.  This is then followed by a major depressive episode.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

It is not unusual for people to be moody, or have mood shifts.  In people without chemical imbalances in the brain, the mood eventually returns to what is considered "the norm".  But when someone has a mood disorder of any kind, it is impossible for the mood to return from one extreme to the other and is never normal.  Since the brain controls all the body's activities, mood imbalances will easily become apparent through how a sufferer performs his or her daily tasks and in interacting with other people.  What's also important to remember is that mood disorders can affect a wide range of behaviors and moods, so that each case is different.  Symptoms range from mild to severe, sometimes being hard to diagnose.  This is true even between one mood disorder to another.  With Bipolar Disorder, symptoms may include:

  • extreme mood shifts, uncontrollable thoughts
  • dementia, hearing voices or seeing "visions"
  • overly positive moods leading to risk-taking (during hypomanic episodes)
  • overly negative moods, disinterest in normal activities, and sluggishness (during depressive episodes)

Often, the sufferer is not the one to realize anything is wrong; that is where the observations of loved ones and acquaintances plays a crucial role to helping correctly diagnose Bipolar Disorder.  Generally-speaking, bipolar people will have a hard time keeping jobs from lack of interest or concentration, have a perfectionist nature, are either pessimistic or live in a fantasy world.  They might not be able to function in society, or become a threat to themselves or those around them.

What Causes Chemical Imbalances?

The brain has several neurotransmitters (considered chemicals) responsible for performing bodily functions as well as responding to the environment.  Imbalances in the serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine levels are associated with the development of mood disorders.  A person might be born with this imbalance, or are predisposed to developing it, as children whose parents or other relatives have a Bipolar Disorder and other mood disorders are up to 50% likely to have a mood disorder of some type.  People of all ages and both genders, from all areas of the world can develop mood disorders.  Stress or trauma, other illnesses or disorders, or a hormonal imbalance (estrogen or testosterone) can trigger the onset, or even mimic the symptoms of a mood disorder and actually be due to certain cancers or diseases (like with those pertaining to the thyroid or hypothalamus).  Sometimes with a specified duration of treatment, the symptoms can be handled, fixing the imbalance.  This happens a lot when stress is the cause.

If You Suspect Bipolar Disorder

If you feel that you or a loved one might have Bipolar Disorder, schedule a doctor's visit to be evaluated.  Treatments vary, but may include counseling, exercise, phototherapy, a hospital stay for observation, medication, or brain therapies using magnetic or electrical impulses to attempt to control the mood (such as with rTMS, ECT, and VNS).  Above all, realize that by taking action now, you can get the help you need without having to be ashamed of feeling the way you do.  It's ok to admit you have a problem, because it's NOT YOUR FAULT.  No one wants to see you hurt yourself.

Further Reading

  • Depression and Bipolar Disorder by Vatsal G. Thakkar, MD
  • Healing Depression & Bipolar Disorder Without Drugs by Gracelyn Guyol
  • Why Am I Still Depressed? by Jim Phelps, MD

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