Bipolar Disorder Symptoms, Signs & Effects

What is Bipolar Disorder

Learn More About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects countless individuals throughout the world. It is a disorder defined by intense mood swings that cause the people suffering from it to go from experiencing the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. The symptoms of bipolar disorder affect those suffering from it so intensely that it impacts their ability to function on daily basis. Not only does it affect the individual’s life, but it can also severely impact the lives of those around the person.

Bipolar disorder presents itself differently in everyone, from presenting in a variety of forms to various stages of severity. The illness has been broken down into three major types, including: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder.

Bipolar I is known to be the most severe form of bipolar disorder. Those who suffer from bipolar I alternate between manic and depressive episodes. Some may experience a higher frequency of manic episodes, while others will experience more depressive episodes. People suffering from the symptoms of bipolar I tend to find themselves thrown into these alternating cycles without having any knowledge of when it will start and when it will stop.

Bipolar II exists when a person experiences extreme depressive episodes and is plagued by at least one hypomanic episode. Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes except they are less severe. When a person experiences a hypomanic episode they typically do not experience functional impairment, while someone suffering from a manic episode most likely will.

Cyclothymic disorder occurs when there are chronic mood disturbances that alternate between hypomania and mild or moderate depression. With cyclothymia, the mood fluctuations and the resulting symptoms are less severe and occur less frequently than those suffering bipolar I or bipolar II.

Statistics

Statistics of Bipolar Disorder

It is estimated that bipolar disorder affects close to 6 million people over the age of 18 in the United States. This is the equivalent to about 2.6% of the U.S. population. While bipolar disorder tends to present itself initially in people around the age of 25, it can affect people of all different ages.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

There has yet to be an exact cause of bipolar disorder identified, but professionals in the field believe that there are a combination of factors that play a role in its development. These factors include:

Genetic: Bipolar disorder has been known to develop in people who have a blood relative who is suffering from the same condition. For example, it has been said that people who have one parent with bipolar disorder have a 15% to 25% chance of suffering from the same condition. However, this does not mean that people who have relatives who have bipolar disorder will develop the disorder, nor does it mean that people who do not have any relatives suffering from it won’t develop it at some point in their lives. Interestingly, for some people who receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, they are able to trace the symptoms all the way back to their childhood.

Physical: A chemical imbalance in the brain, including the dysfunction of certain neurotransmitters (chemicals responsible for sending messages throughout the brain) is said to impact whether a person will experience the onset of bipolar disorder. Significant fluctuations in one’s hormones has also been said to play a role in its development.

Environmental: While somewhat controversial, there are some professionals who believe that environmental factors can play a role in the onset of bipolar disorder, even without any genetic influences. Things such as altered health habits as well as alcohol and drug abuse have been linked to the development of the disorder in some individuals. However, it is considered to be more likely that those things add to the severity of the onset, or to an earlier presentation of the onset, rather than being the sole responsibility of its development.

Risk Factors:

  • Family genetics
  • Substance abuse
  • Trauma
  • Major life changes
  • Major life stressors
  • Being female (females are said to be more likely to experience rapid cycling and mixed states of mania and depression than males are)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder will not only vary from person to person, but they will also vary based on whether the individual is experiencing a manic episode or a depressive episode. The following are some examples of various symptoms that a person suffering from bipolar disorder may exhibit:

Behavioral symptoms

  • Manic episode
    • Rapid speech
    • Acting out impulsively
    • Participating in high-risk behaviors
  • Depressive episode
    • Increased amounts of time spent sleeping
    • Self-harm
    • Making suicide attempts
    • Isolation

Physical symptoms

  • Manic episode
    • Decreased need for sleep
    • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Depressive episode
    • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
    • Chronic feelings of lethargy

Cognitive symptoms

  • Manic episode
    • Racing thoughts
    • Flight of ideas
    • Poor concentration
  • Depressive episode
    • Difficulty concentrating

Psychosocial symptoms

  • Manic episode
    • Feelings of grandiosity
    • Excessive happiness
    • Feelings of invincibility
  • Depressive episode
    • Inexplicable sense of guilt
    • Low self-esteem
    • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness

Effects

Effects of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is chronic illness, which will continue to affect those suffering from it throughout their lifetime. There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but it can be successfully managed through various treatments, including the use of psychotropic medications and various types of therapy. However, for people who do not seek out or follow through on treatment, their episodes and symptoms are likely to continue worsening. For those who do not receive treatment, the effects of the illness can have detrimental ramifications on their social and personal lives, as well as in their careers.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders of Bipolar Disorder

There are a number of disorders that can occur alongside bipolar disorder due to the fact that the symptoms can overlap. In some cases, the symptoms of a co-occurring disorder can trigger the onset of new symptoms as well. Some examples of these co-existing disorders can include the following:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Extreme phobias

Our previous treatment option did not seem to help our son's bipolar disorder. After admitting him to Ohio Hospital for Psychiatry, our son has better ways to handle his symptoms and we are so grateful!

– Martha F.