Bipolar Disorder: What Is It and What Are the Symptoms?

by Carter Toni

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive illness, is one of several mental health conditions known as mood disorders.  These disorders are characterized by unusual mood changes, shifts in energy and activity levels, concentration, and difficulty carrying out daily tasks. A combination of mania and depression are the hallmarks of mood disorders.

Mania is often characterized by euphoria, where an individual exhibits boundless energy, has grand ideas, and shows exuberant self-assurance. In a manic state, the victim’s thoughts race.They may speak fast and demonstrate poor judgment. They may impulsively spend too much money, alienate people with their irritability and impatience, and even commit sexual indiscretions.

alienate people with their irritability and impatience

People with bipolar disorder also experience periods of deep depression, characterized by feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and sadness. Whendepressed, those suffering from bipolar disorder often have difficulty concentrating on things, lack confidence, havedifficulty making sound decisions, and cannot enjoy activities that they previously found enjoyable.

Some victims also exhibit physical symptoms that include oversleeping or insomnia, gaining or losing weight, lethargy, and agitation. Some depressed individuals may also think about suicide or death. If you or any of your loved ones have bipolar disorder, you can claim disability benefits for bipolar disorder from the Social Security Administration.

Types of Bipolar Disorder:

As discussed, someone with bipolar disorder experiences both mania and depression. Bipolar disorders are categorized into two types – Bipolar I and Bipolar II. The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) defines each type as follows:

  • Bipolar I Disorder— defined by manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting at least 2 weeks. Episodes of depression with mixed features (having depressive symptoms and manic symptoms at the same time) are also possible.
  • Bipolar II Disorder— defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder.

The NIMH also describes a third type of bipolar disorder, called Cyclothymia, which is defined by periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years for adults or 1 year in children and adolescents. Symptoms, however, do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.

Mania or hypomania is the key to diagnosing bipolar disorder. According to medical science, a person who experiences a manic state even once may be presumed to have bipolar disorder. Manic and depressive states often immediately follow one another or may be separated by long time intervals.

The patient may have more episodes of one side of the manic spectrum than the other. Some bipolar patients who experience four or more attacks every year are known as rapid cyclers.

Regarding age, the onset of bipolar disorder is usually earlier than it is for unipolar depression. It usually begins in the late teens or early twenties but seldom starts after age 40.

Sometimes, it is preceded by a disorder called cyclothymiawhich, as discussed earlier, is a milder form of mood disorder where the victim exhibits marked periods of moodiness and mood swings for a minimum of two years. Bipolar disorder is a chronic disorder. Even with treatment, less than half of the individuals who are diagnosed go as many as five years without an episode.

To date, the causes of bipolar disorder are unclear to medical professionals, but multiple factors are associated with it. Family and adoption studies have consistently indicated a genetic predisposition toward mood disorders. First-degree relatives of persons with bipolar disorder are much more likely than the general population to experience bipolar depression, anxiety, and unipolar depression.

However, there is no clear evidence that a particular gene is linked to the transmission of bipolar disorder. Studies show that a family’s history can increase a person’s vulnerability to several diseases.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder:

Scientists are learning more about neurotransmitters in the brain as technology and scientific methods evolve. They believe that they are very likely involved in bipolar disorder, but in complex and interactional ways that have not yet been understood. There seems to be a significant relationship between neurotransmitters and the hormones secreted by the hypothalamus, adrenal, and pituitary glands.

Some also speculate that bipolar disorder may be related to circadian rhythms because some people with bipolar disorder are light-sensitive and show abnormalities in sleep patterns such as intense dreaming, entering REM sleep too quickly, and missing the deeper stages of sleep.

Sometimes, trauma or stressful life events can lead to episodes of mania or depression but do not seem to be the leading cause of the disorder. Psychosocial factors such as interpersonal relationships, learned helplessness, attributional style, and attitudes all seem to be correlated with bipolar disorder but have not been identified as causes yet.

When diagnosing bipolar disorders, there are two main types of conditions that medical professionals consider.

WIth bipolar I, the patient’s energy and drive are increased, which is usually expressed by spending sprees, sexual indiscretions, and other impulsive behaviors. Racing thoughts and speech patterns also accompany this behavior.

These manic episodes can also involve irritability or periods of psychosis. For bipolar I disorder, an elevated mood episode significantly impacts life, such that continuing work and maintaining relationships can become difficult.

Bipolar II also involves elevated moods, but it is of lesser severity and for a shorter duration, usually around 4 days. Bipolar II also involves periods of depression where the person can lack motivation and energy, feelings of overwhelming sadness, grief, and sometimes guilt over things they are not responsible for. There can also be changes to sleep patterns and appetite.

So, if you or anyone in your circle of family or friends have been diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 bipolar disorder and find it challenging to lead a normal, everyday life, consult a Social Security Disability Attorney. We have highly experienced legal professionals available to assist you on this journey.

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