Bipolar Disorder

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About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar affective disorder is a chronic condition where a person's mood can fluctuate between depression and feeling elated (mania). The fluctuations can last from days to weeks to months, and there even may be periods when the person's mood is normal. 

The symptoms of Bipolar affective disorder are categorized into the symptoms of mania or hypomania and those of depression. 

Symptoms of mania 

  • Increased energy
  • Abnormally high or irritable mood
  • Ideas that are grand about yourself
  • Reduced sleep
  • Flight of ideas where the person tends to change ideas quickly from one to another and their thoughts feel like they are racing
  • Wanting to do lots of pleasurable things; such as spend alot of money/travel
  • Be less inhibited about your sexual behaviour.

In severe cases people with mania may develop hallucinations and delusions where they hear voices which are not real or have false beliefs. Usually it is family and friends who realise that there is a problem, and the person with mania does not, and can become irritated, as they believe they feel really good.

Symptoms of depression 

  • Low mood
  • Loss interest in life, including hobbies
  • Feeling weepy
  • Feeling worthless
  • Having poor concentration
  • Sleeping difficulties such as  
    • Lack of sleep or sleeping excessively 
    • Difficulty getting to sleep 
    • Early morning waking despite lack of sleep
  • Difficulty with partner, including losing your libido
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Tension headaches 

In severe cases patient may have thoughts of death and self harm. This may present as thinking 'whats the point of living' or attempts at self harm or suicide. 

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The cause of bipolar affective disorder is not known. We do know that it runs in families, and therefore there is a 'genetic aspect'. However usually stress,  and an imbalance of the chemicals in the brain tend to trigger episodes of mania or depression. 

Bipolar can be a lifelong condition but with treatment the outlook of the condition can be improved. Treatment means that episodes of mania or depression are shorter and may be prevented. 

Treatment therefore includes preventative type medications such as mood stabilizers like Lithium, anticonvulsant, antipsychotic and antidepressants medication. This is usually used alongside cognitive behavioural therapy. 

In an acute episode of mania or hypomania, as the person does not usually realise that you are ill,  sometimes it is necessary for them to see a psychiatrist immediately who and have short admission in hospital, as they may have symptoms which are putting themselves, or others, at risk of harm. 

Reducing stress level, doing regular exercises, reducing alcohol, not taking recreational drugs and joining support groups can help. Famously the successful comedian and actor Stephen Fry has this condition, and he has made a documentary where he speaks about living with this disorder.     

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