Bipolar Disorder: Fast Facts

  • Bipolar disorder is usually characterized by extreme swings in mood, from highs (mania) to lows (depression). Some forms may be diagnosed without the patient experience a depressive episode.
  • Bipolar disorder is sometimes referred to as manic depression.
  • Bipolar disorder affects roughly 5.7 million American adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
  • Episodes of bipolar disorder may last for weeks or months and the condition usually require lifelong treatment.
  • Episodes generally follow a pattern for a particular patient but may become more frequent as the person ages.
  • The cause and risk factors of bipolar disorder are not completely understood.
  • People who have relatives with a history of a mood disorder are at a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder.
  • Symptoms of bipolar disorder generally remain the same from one episode to the next for a particular patient, but they may get worse or better.
  • Symptoms of mania include euphoria, increased self-esteem, racing thoughts and reckless behavior.
  • Symptoms of depression include sadness, loss of interest in activities, fatigue and thoughts of death.
  • Psychotic features such as hallucinations or delusions may occur in both manic and depressive episodes.
  • Bipolar disorder is frequently misdiagnosed (sometimes as depression) because people who are in a manic phase tend not to seek treatment.
  • When treatment is sought during a depressive episode, bipolar disorder may be confused with depression, especially if there is no history of manic episodes.
  • Diagnosis includes ruling out physical causes, such as thyroid disorders, of symptoms that may mimic bipolar disorder.
  • The diagnosis of bipolar disorder involves a mental health evaluation, including a complete history of symptoms, when they started, their duration and their severity.
  • Bipolar disorder may be difficult to diagnose in children because symptoms are often similar to those of other conditions, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
  • Children with bipolar disorder often do not fully meet established criteria.
  • Although there is no known cure for bipolar disorder, it is among the most treatable of mental illnesses.
  • There is no known way to prevent bipolar disorder itself, but individual episodes may be prevented with the use of medications.
  • Mood-stabilizing drugs are the primary medications for bipolar disorder.
  • Lithium is the most common mood stabilizer and generally the first medication used.
  • Psychotherapy is often effective in patients whose symptoms have been stabilized with medications.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy is generally considered only in severe cases or in cases where medications are not effective.
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