Bipolar Disorder: Causes and Treatment

bipolar disorder

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes intense shifts in a person’s mood and energy level. Such a person may experience periods of an extremely elevated or irritable mood also known as manic episodes, as well as episodes of depression. The mood shifts that people with bipolar disorder experience are more severe than the normal mood changes that affect everyone. They can involve impaired thinking and behavior and can also affect their ability to function normally.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is of different types, with varying levels of symptoms and severity. A symptom of every type of bipolar disorder is extreme mood swings. Diagnosing bipolar disorder is usually based on the length, frequency, and pattern of mania and depression.

A major symptom of bipolar I is at least one manic episode with major depressive episodes. Bipolar II is characterized by a major depressive episode as well as an episode of hypomania, which is less severe than full mania. There may also be in-between periods of a stable mood. People who suffer cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar disorder, experience less severe hypomanic and depressive episodes that alternate for at least two years.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I

depressedThis is the most severe type of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar I experience at least one manic episode along with depressive episodes, in many cases. Maniac episodes among people with bipolar I are usually extreme.

Bipolar II

Bipolar II is a separate condition, not a mild form of bipolar I, as many think. Its diagnosis usually comes after a person experiences at least one major depressive episode and at least one episode of hypomania. The highs in bipolar II aren’t as high as those in bipolar I. Unfortunately, there are sometimes misdiagnosis cases when it comes to bipolar II as some medical practitioners mistake it for major depressive disorder when the sufferer’s hypomanic episodes go unrecognized.


Also known as a cyclothymic disorder, people with this condition experience hypomanic and depressive symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors of Bipolar Disorder

The exact causes of bipolar disorder aren`t certain, however, it may be linked to genetics, brain structure, and brain functioning. People who have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder are likely to develop the condition. Heritability is estimated at about 70 percent. The genetic components at work are complicated, however certain gene mutations such as the ODZ4, NCAN, and CACNA1C genes may be involved. In addition to genetic factors, environmental factors are also likely to be involved in the development of the bipolar disorder.

Scientists have used brain-imaging tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) to discover how the brains of people with bipolar disorder differ from the brains of people with other mental disorders, and even those without any such disorder. An MRI study found that the brains of adults with bipolar disorder have a prefrontal cortex that’s smaller than — and also doesn’t function like — the prefrontal cortex of adults who don’t have bipolar disorder. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for decision-making and problem-solving.

People with a history of other mental health disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder have an increased risk for developing bipolar disorder.

There are a number of symptoms that result from bipolar disorder, which may also serve as triggers for the disorder. Some of these symptoms are changes in sleep patterns, engaging in heated arguments, experiencing high stress or traumatic events, abusing certain medications, and abusing alcohol. Some hormonal changes in pregnancy can also put women at a greater risk for a manic or depressive episode.

How to Diagnose Bipolar Disorder

hospitalThere is no particular test for bipolar disorder, however, blood tests and neuro-imaging may be helpful in ruling out other conditions. Bipolar symptoms, many times, appear like those of other disorders, making it challenging to properly diagnose the condition.

It is especially difficult to differentiate the symptoms of bipolar disorder from normal mood changes and behaviors in children and teens. Children and teens who have manic episodes may be short-tempered and irritable, as well as experience trouble sleeping and staying focused. People experiencing a depressive episode may have headaches, stomachaches, and experience changes in eating habits. They may also have low energy and waning interest in activities they usually enjoy. Some even have thoughts about death and suicide.

How to Treat Bipolar Disorder

Treating bipolar disorder may require psychotherapy, brain stimulation therapies, mood-balancing medication, and some lifestyle changes.

Antipsychotics, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs are common medications prescribed for bipolar disorder. There`s sometimes the need to combine some of these medications. Many of these medications have a variety of side effects, and it can be challenging to find the appropriate therapy, while the treatment might also take some time. Continuous use of the medication, however, remains pertinent to attaining a remarkable level of healing.

There are cases where drug therapy isn’t effective, so brain stimulation therapies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation or electroconvulsive therapy might be recommended. There are some other forms of psychotherapy or counseling that can be helpful. One such is cognitive behavioral therapy, which requires a psychiatrist or psychologist to identify episode triggers and develop behavioral strategies to manage the condition.

Lifestyle changes such as avoiding certain foods, quitting drugs and alcohol, and exercising regularly are also helpful in managing the condition. People who suffer from bipolar disorder are also advised to join support groups that can enable them to cope better with the condition.

Some Mental Health Facts

  • Mental illness patients are not necessarily violent; only 3-5% of violent acts are attributed to people with severe mental illness.
  • Genetics, injury, illness, and traumatic life experiences are common causes of mental illness.
  • One in five Americans has experienced some form of mental illness.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the world and accounts for over 800,000 deaths globally every year.
  • People who have lived through a major disaster are twice at risk of mental health issues than those who haven`t.
  • 50% of adults in the U.S. who have had a problem with substance abuse also suffer from mental illness.
  • One in 10 young people has experienced major depression.
  • Only 44% of adults with diagnosable mental illnesses receive treatment.
  • Treatment for mental health problems can include meditation, therapy, OTC medication, yoga.
  • Seeking immediate medical attention to trauma can prevent mental health disorders, especially in children and adolescents.
  • People who belong to the LGBTQ community are twice as likely as straight people to suffer mental illnesses.
  • Mental illnesses can affect people of any religion, age, race, or social class.
  • Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.
  • To prevent mental health illness, you`re advised to communicate with family and friends, especially during stressful periods.
  • Seek treatment immediately you observe symptoms of poor mental health.
  • Getting adequate sleep, eating balanced meals, and exercising are vital positive lifestyle choices that can prevent mental health issues.
  • One in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression
  • One in 25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, major depression, or schizophrenia.
  • Employers who hire people with mental health issues report good attendance, punctuality as well as motivation, and excellent performance.
  • People with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees.