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  • Fact Sheet: Bipolar Disorder

    Bipolar disorder is an illness that causes shifts in an individual’s mood, energy level, and ability to function. It can have a significant impact on the person’s quality of life, limiting the ability to work, go to school, and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. For most people, periods of normal mood alternate with “high” and/or irritable periods and periods of extreme feelings of sadness and hopelessness. These are called episodes of mania and depression.

    Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, may have a hereditary component and tends to run in families. A person with a parent who has the disorder has a greater chance of developing bipolar disorder, although a specific genetic link has not been identified. Others may have a predisposition to develop the disorder, which may be triggered by environmental factors. People of any age may have it. The diagnosis of bipolar disorder indicates a biochemical imbalance thought to be caused by irregular hormone production or with the production of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals in the brain that send messages to the nerve cells.

    Treatment of bipolar disorder is critical, and will include medication to stop the mood swings and improve the depression. Two different types of medicine are necessary: mood stabilizers to even out the mood swings and antidepressants for the symptoms of depression. Counseling complements these therapies, and participation in support and self-help groups plays an important role in acquiring appropriate coping skills and avoiding social isolation.

    Symptoms of bipolar disorder may include:

    Manic signs:

    • Feelings angry and irritable
    • Rapid thoughts
    • Absence of the need to sleep
    • Exaggerated feelings of power and self-importance
    • Concentration difficulties
    • Abusing alcohol and drugs
    • Careless spending
    • Having unprotected sex

    Depressive signs:

    • Feelings of sadness and psychological numbness
    • Loss of interest in normal activities
    • Crying
    • Feeling slowed down or restless
    • Feelings of worthlessness
    • Changes in weight and appetite
    • Memory problems
    • Headaches, backaches or digestive problems
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Fatigue
    • Thoughts about death and suicide

    Additional information about bipolar disorder may be found on our Web-based Resources page