Bipolar disorder : Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Alternate Names : Manic depression, Bipolar affective disorder

Definition

Bipolar disorder involves periods of excitability (mania) alternating with periods of depression. The “mood swings” between mania and depression can be very abrupt.

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally. It usually appears between ages 15 – 25. The exact cause is unknown, but it occurs more often in relatives of people with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder results from disturbances in the areas of the brain that regulate mood.

There are two primary types of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder I have had at least one fully manic episode with periods of major depression. In the past, bipolar disorder I was called manic depression.

People with bipolar disorder II seldom experience full-fledged mania. Instead they experience periods of hypomania (elevated levels of energy and impulsiveness that are not as extreme as the symptoms of mania). These hypomanic periods alternate with episodes of major depression.

A mild form of bipolar disorder called cyclothymia involves periods of hypomania and mild depression, with less severe mood swings. People with bipolar disorder II or cyclothymia may be misdiagnosed as having depression alone.

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Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by episodes of mania and major depression. Treatment with lithium or mood stabilizers may be effective, but medication regimens are sometimes difficult to tolerate and maintain, thus increasing risk of relapse.


Review Date : 1/15/2009
Reviewed By : Christos Ballas, MD, Attending Psychiatrist, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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