What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a condition of the brain that affects just under 3 percent of Americans according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It’s also called manic-depressive illness or manic depression. Bipolar disorder causes extreme changes in mood that often lead to shifts in energy and activity levels. These changes can have a debilitating impact on sufferers’ everyday activities and self-confidence.
The highs and lows of bipolar disorder are referred to as episodes. They are classified into three types.
- A manic episode is a period of elation when a person experiences dramatically increased energy levels and an unusually high mood.
- Less severe manic episodes are called hypomanic.
- Depressive episodes, by contrast, create feelings of overwhelming sadness and hopelessness.
Even non-bipolar people can suffer from hypomanic or depressive moments, but those with the condition will experience these cycles regularly. FHE has the experience and expertise to find the best treatment for any variant of this disorder.
How Is it Diagnosed?
FHE’s qualified staff can diagnose bipolar disorder once physical conditions are ruled out. The process involves taking a detailed history and taking into account any conditions that can mimic bipolar symptoms. Once we’ve made the diagnosis, we’ll evaluate the frequency and duration of episodes to determine which of the four major classifications of bipolar disorder the client is dealing with. That determination makes it possible for us to offer the right treatment options.
What Is Unipolar Bipolar Disorder?
Unipolar bipolar disorder refers to the depression within the bipolar disorder. Where someone with bipolar disorders experiences two mood states, mania and depression, someone with unipolar bipolar disorder primarily experiences the depressive state.
Symptoms of unipolar depression commonly present as:
- Sadness or irritability
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Changes to sleeping patterns
Understanding Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar 1 vs Bipolar 2
Within bipolar disorder there are two classifications: bipolar 1 and bipolar 2. Understanding the differences between these two types of bipolar disorder allows you to better understand the emotions you or your loved one is dealing with.
Understanding Bipolar 1
Bipolar 1 differs from bipolar 2 disorder in that the individual never has to experience a depressive episode to receive the diagnosis. They simply need to exhibit one episode of mania within their lifetime. According to a 2005 study, between 25% and 33% of people with bipolar disorder in non-treatment samples say they’ve never had a major depressive episode.
Manic episodes in bipolar 1 are extreme, sometimes requiring hospitalization for the patient’s own safety. These manic episodes must last seven days or longer continuously (all day, everyday) to be classified as bipolar mania.
Understanding Bipolar 2
Bipolar 2 is less extreme than bipolar 1 from an outside perspective, but to the individual experiencing it, there are still emotional highs and lows that are challenging to navigate. People with bipolar 2 experience episodes of hypomania, which are less intense mood elevations.
Often, people with bipolar 2 have longer-lasting depression than people with bipolar 1. A bipolar 2 diagnosis requires a major depressive episode lasting at least two weeks and at least one episode of hypomania. The highs in bipolar 2 may not even impair a person’s function, instead making them more productive.
Understanding bipolar disorder 2 requires knowledge of the severity of the depression that accompanies the condition. A 2010 study found that people with bipolar 2 and bipolar 1 were at similar risks for suicide attempts, but that people with bipolar 2 were more likely to use violent, lethal methods.
Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia)
For sufferers of this variant, hypomania and depression persist for too long to be clinically considered “episodes.” The low and high mood swings aren’t as severe as other bipolar variants.
Other Disorders, Specified, Unspecified and Related
Symptoms that don’t match the previous three bipolar disorder types fall into this category.
It’s also important to note that bipolar disorder often co-occurs with other physical and mental conditions. Anxiety, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and substance abuse issues are common. Some physical conditions are more frequent in bipolar patients as well, including diabetes, migraines, obesity and thyroid disease. FHE plans an individualized course of treatment for the particular circumstances of every patient.
Identifying Signs and Symptoms
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be suffering from bipolar disorder, there are symptoms you can watch for. Manic and depressive episodes are the most obvious symptom. Because it’s normal for everyone to experience highs and lows, the severity of symptoms is important. When evaluating potential manic and depressive episodes, these are levels that may support a diagnosis:
- Engaging in reckless behavior
- Unusually high energy levels
- Dramatically increased activity levels
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling agitated
- Feeling irritable
- Rapid speech about scattered subjects
- Feelings of elation
- Overconfidence in abilities
- Lowered energy levels
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Reduced activity levels
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Lack of enthusiasm for previously enjoyable activities
- Obsessive worrying
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of exhaustion
- Abnormal eating (too little or too much)
- Thoughts of suicide or death
If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms at regular intervals, it may be time to contact professionals like those at FHE and get evaluated. Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to living a fulfilling and satisfying life with bipolar disorder.
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Bipolar Disorder Treatment Options
Despite the chronic nature of bipolar disorder, there are several treatment options available to help manage the condition. Treatment can be tricky, however, because many who suffer from the condition only seek help while in depressive episodes. Manic episodes often lead to the belief that treatment is not necessary. FHE can put together a treatment plan that works and help you to stick with it.
In general, treatment options focus on smoothing out the highs and lows associated with bipolar disorder. There is currently no cure for the condition as such, but we can help you manage the symptoms and improve quality of life. Current treatment options fall into three categories: medication, therapy and alternative options.
There are several medications available to treat bipolar disorder. These can be used alone or in various combinations to ease symptoms of the condition. A medicated approach is unique to each case based on the type and severity of symptoms.
- Mood stabilizers are often used to treat bipolar I and bipolar II because they help to control manic or hypomanic episodes.
- Antipsychotic drugs are sometimes used and can be effective at alleviating manic and depressive episodes. They are especially helpful when the episodes are severe enough to include hallucinations or delusions.
- Antidepressants are sometimes given to relieve symptoms during depressive episodes.
- Antianxiety medication is sometimes prescribed to help with sleep and ease any associated anxiety.
As with any medication, each of these has the potential to cause side effects.FHE will work with you to determine if the risks outweigh the benefits, and will adjust your treatment plan until we find what works best for you.
We also offer therapy and counseling for those suffering from manic-depressive illness. Cognitive behavioral therapy is useful for identifying episode triggers and learning new coping strategies. These strategies can help lower stress levels and reduce the need to self-medicate with harmful substances. All therapy options can help you learn more about your condition and what to expect. Sometimes knowing what you’re dealing with can make a condition feel more manageable.
For those who don’t respond well to traditional medications or therapy, there are a few alternative options that may help reduce the severity of episodes. Holistic approaches are available, though there is limited scientific evidence proving their effectiveness. Natural herbs and supplements are a common approach, but it’s important to let your doctor know any substances you are taking. Even natural treatments can interact with prescribed medications.
Acupuncture is another natural approach that may help ease depression symptoms. Although this has not been researched as a treatment for bipolar disorder, it’s safe to use with medication.
FHE’s neuro-rehabilitative services — especially brain stimulation therapy — can be a useful part of a treatment plan for bipolar disorder. Using either magnetic, electrical or vibrational stimulation, this technique encourages the brain’s natural processes of self-repair. It has been particularly helpful in treating depressive episodes.
How Mental Health Rehab Can Help
If you are suffering from bipolar disorder, mental health rehab at FHE can help improve the quality of your life. Our rehab professionals can get an in-depth look at your symptoms to determine what underlying issues are contributing to your condition. They’re trained to identify when a dual diagnosis is needed and can help you navigate your treatment options. You get the benefit of a support system designed to address your needs. Mental health rehab can give you peace of mind, knowing you have a qualified team of professionals in your corner.
Lifestyle Changes for Managing Bipolar Depression
The depressive episodes of bipolar disorder can be especially difficult to get through. It may seem like the fatigue, feelings of hopelessness and loss of enthusiasm and motivation will never end. However, there are healthy choices you can make to ease the negative impact depressive episodes have on your life.
Identify the warning signs that a depressive episode is coming and make time for self-care. Try to avoid the things that trigger your depression by journaling your experience. Use your journal to determine effective coping techniques and use those in the early stages of a depressive episode. Exercise is an excellent natural mood booster, so try to stay active when your energy levels allow it. Your body also needs fuel to run efficiently. Make sure you eat foods that have the nutrients that stimulate the neurotransmitters in your brain.
How to Get Help for Bipolar Disorder
Whether you are living with bipolar disorder or unipolar depression, it’s critical to understand how to deal with bipolar disorder. If you’re wondering how to understand bipolar disorder or how to get help for the condition, there are several effective treatment options available today that can improve your quality of life.
Staff at FHE Health can help you take control of your mental health and understand your disorder to get your life back on track.