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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mood disorder that causes the person who has the condition to have extreme bouts of sadness and happiness that go beyond everyday mood swings. Bipolar disorder is a fairly common condition that affects about 1 in 100 people. While bipolar disorder can occur at any age it usually manifests itself between 18-24 years of age and rarely appears after the age of 40.

The two phases of bipolar disorder are depression and mania, or, in milder forms of the condition, hypomania. The number of episodes of these phases and the nature of them range from person to person.

Some people will have only one or two short episodes and then never be unwell again, whereas a very small proportion persistently experiences the symptoms of depression or mania or flit quickly from one extreme to the other. The latter is known as rapid cycling.

Each phase can sometimes last for several weeks or even longer and can be extreme enough to stop people being able to live a ‘normal’ life.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

The symptoms of bipolar disorder are dependent on which phase the person with the condition is experiencing.

The symptoms for depression can be divided between the psychological and the physical. Psychological symptoms include feelings of sadness and hopelessness, low self esteem, lack of motivation, feeling anxious, irritable, feelings of guilt and suicidal thoughts. Physical symptoms include: slow movement or speech, lack of energy and feeling tired, loss of appetite and a reduced sex drive.

The symptoms of the manic phase include feelings of extreme happiness or euphoria, feeling full of energy, an increased feeling of importance, not sleeping or eating, being easily distracted, and feeling less inhibited than normal.

In extreme episodes of both phases, but in particular the manic phase, there may also be symptoms related to psychosis that include being delusional and having hallucinations.

Treatment for bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a recurring illness that needs to be treated, most commonly with medication, over a long period of time.

Mood stabilising drugs such as lithium are often prescribed on a long term basis as a preventative measure. Other medications are used to treat each phase as it occurs. Anti-depressant medication is used to treat the depressive phase and anti-psychotic medication is used to treat the manic phase.

In very acute cases sufferers may need to be admitted to hospital in order to be treated. In between phases talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can also be helpful.

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