Bipolar disorder can be a terrifying diagnosis. It can also be very confusing.
Many people misunderstand the illness. And this confusion can have dangerous consequences. It’s especially important to get the right treatment early.
Misdiagnoses can lead to lost jobs, family conflicts, and unneeded suffering. Thankfully, demystifying the disease is possible.
Many people do not have enough knowledge about what is bipolar disorder. Most people with bipolar disorder have periods of normal moods interspersed with high and low-mood episodes.
It can be hard to live a fulfilling life when the ups and downs interfere with work, family, and friendships. It’s also difficult to make decisions when you don’t know your mood or if you have the symptoms of an episode that might lead to psychosis or mania.
Symptoms of a manic or hypomanic episode can include euphoria, pressured speech, increased energy level, decreased need for sleep, hyperactivity, racing thoughts, increased sexual desire, hypersexuality, and risk-taking behavior. Psychosis can also be a feature of a manic or hypomanic phase, including hallucinations and delusions.
Depression or a low mood can include feelings of extreme sadness, worthlessness or hopelessness, difficulty thinking, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, feeling tired all the time, insomnia, psychomotor agitation (feeling fidgety and restless), increased appetite, weight gain, or a change in sleeping patterns. Depression can also cause suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts.
A doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and family history to help rule out other conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart disease. A GP can refer you to a specialist psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse for a diagnosis if necessary. A psychiatrist or nurse will take medical records and conduct a physical examination to see if you have any medical conditions that could contribute to the symptoms of bipolar disorder, such as a thyroid problem or an infection.
A person with bipolar disorder usually experiences symptoms for months or years before a diagnosis is made. During this time, they may experience episodes that don’t include mania or depression but still have elevated moods (hypomania). Some people with bipolar disorder also experience periods of low or normal mood levels without experiencing any episodes.
A mental health specialist will ask you about your family history, any traumatic events or abuse you’ve experienced, and when you started having symptoms. They will also ask about your symptoms and their severity.
You will likely be prescribed medications for bipolar disorder that help to prevent mania and depression. These are typically antidepressants and mood stabilizers. It would help if you never stopped taking these medications unless instructed by your doctor. Doing so can cause a recurrence of symptoms.
Other treatments for bipolar disorder can include psychotherapy and family-focused therapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Medications are the mainstay of treatment for most people with the condition, but they can’t work for everyone. Some people respond better to other treatment options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or acupuncture.
The most important thing is to keep in touch with your healthcare provider. They will monitor your progress and make any necessary changes to your medication regimen. In addition, they will teach you how to manage your symptoms and the warning signs of a relapse. It’s also helpful to educate yourself and your family about bipolar disorder. This helps you and your loved ones understand the condition, spot warning signs, and create a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, sleep, a nutritious diet, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.
The most effective treatment options for bipolar disorder include medication and psychotherapy, often combined. Drugs stabilize extreme mood changes and reduce the likelihood of a recurrence. Finding a combination that works for you may take some trial and error. Talk therapy or counseling can help you learn to identify and cope with triggers of mood changes. Family and group therapies can also reduce symptoms.
People with bipolar disorder experience a higher-than-normal energy level, accelerated thoughts and speech, inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, increased spending or risk-taking behaviors such as unsafe sex or drug misuse, and feelings of euphoria or mania. During these episodes, they may not recognize the negative consequences of their behavior and can be at risk for self-injury or harming others. In more severe cases of mania, they may also experience psychosis, which can involve hallucinations or delusions.
It’s important to get medical treatment when you notice signs and symptoms of a manic or depressive episode. Acute management focuses on stabilizing someone experiencing an intense mood episode, including hospitalization if necessary.
Medications like mood stabilizers, antidepressants, or benzodiazepines are usually prescribed, and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is sometimes used in severe depression with psychotic features. In long-term management, medications, psychotherapy, and support groups are helpful. Lifestyle choices like exercise, sleep habits, and a healthy diet can also reduce symptoms and help prevent future episodes.
Some steps can be taken to help prevent bipolar disorder episodes and their consequences, such as creating a healthy routine for sleeping, eating, and physical activity. Talking with a mental health professional can also be helpful in understanding mood fluctuations and developing coping skills. Avoiding alcohol, recreational drugs, and over-the-counter medications that can trigger or interfere with your bipolar medication can also be important.
It’s important to educate yourself and your family members about the symptoms of mania and hypomania so they can recognize them. This can be done through psychoeducation, a type of therapy that teaches people about their mental illness and how to manage it.
It’s also a good idea to join a support group. Spending time with others with bipolar disorder can provide comfort and encouragement. It’s also a way to develop new relationships that can help avoid isolation and depression.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offers a directory for local NAMI chapters. These groups are geared toward raising awareness about mood disorders and helping people get the care they need. You can also participate in research studies to develop better treatments for bipolar disorder and related conditions. Talk to your doctor about this option. They may recommend someone who can help you find a study that fits your situation.