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- Bipolar disorder affects
between 1-5% of adults in the United States.
- Bipolar disorder is characterized
by an alternating pattern of mania (feelings of
intense euphoria, rapid speech, agitation, recklessness,
insomnia, and possible psychosis) and depression
(feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, suicidal thoughts,
loss of interest in daily activities).
- Other mental states that
may be present are hypomania (a less intense version
of mania), or mixed states (the presence of mania
and depression at the same time).
- Bipolar disorder is largely
determined by a genetic vulnerability affecting
neurotransmitters, but it is usually set off by
social and emotional triggers. A family history
exists in about 60% of people with bipolar disorder
(www.mayoclinic.com). Common triggers include: a
critical, hostile family situation, a disrupted
sleep/wake cycle, job changes, and other stressful
- Early markers of a bipolar
episode occur before the episode is in full swing.
These signs, such as changes in sleeping patterns
and increasing agitation, are usefully predictable
to cue the person to seek extra help.
- About 15% of people with
bipolar have rapid cycling, meaning that their highs
and lows occur more frequently (www.mayoclinic.com).
- Bipolar disorder usually
begins in adolescence or early adulthood, but has
been evident in children too. For people who have
their first manic episode after age 50, the cause
is usually something other than bipolar disorder.
- Without treatment, manic
episodes can last a few months while depression
can last well over six months.
- Bipolar is usually treated
with mood stabilizers (e.g., Lithium, Depakote,
Tegretol). Other anti-anxiety or antipsychotic medications
may also be prescribed. Antidepressant medications
may overshoot the person from depression into mania,
and are used with extreme caution.
- Medication compliance is
challenging for many people with bipolar disorder.
About 1/2 of all mood stabilizer responders stop
taking their medication because of the side effects
or because they miss the pleasurable feelings associated
with moderate mania.