Diagnosing and Treating Bipolar Disorder
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Do you know that bipolar disorder cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or brain scan? Diagnosis occurs after a close examination of symptoms. Watch the video on diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder to learn more.
Transcript: Most people with bipolar disorder can successfully balance their moods with medication. But how do you...
Most people with bipolar disorder can successfully balance their moods with medication. But how do you know that it's bipolar disorder? Although bipolar disorder cannot yet be identified physiologically-for example, through a blood test or a brain scan - diagnosis of the disorder can be made on the basis of a person's symptoms, the course of the illness, and, when available, family history. When someone has Bipolar Disorder, they have dramatic swings from periods of frenetic activity, or "manic" moods, to hopeless "depressive" moods. The first step in diagnosing Bipolar disorder is identifying these two mood states. A manic episode is diagnosed if an elevated mood occurs with three or more other symptoms nearly every day for 1 week or longer, or if an extremely irritable mood occurs with four or more manic symptoms. Symptoms of mania include increased energy, restlessness or aggressive behavior, extreme irritability, racing thoughts, rapid speech, and jumping from one idea to another and loose sexual behavior. Other common symptoms of mania include a limited need for sleep, spending sprees, an unrealistic belief in one's abilities, poor judgment, drug abuse, and denial that anything is wrong. A depressive episode is diagnosed if five or more symptoms occur nearly every day for a period of 2 weeks or longer. Symptoms of Depression include a lasting sad mood, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or helplessness, and a decreased interest in pleasure. Other symptoms of depression can include decreased energy, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, irritability, sleep disturbance and a change in appetite or unintended weight changes. The most effective treatment for bipolar disorder is a combination of medication and therapy, administered continuously over time. Most patients-even those with severe forms-can achieve substantial stabilization of mood swings and related symptoms with proper treatment. Because bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness, long-term preventive treatment is strongly recommended. Medications prescribed for bipolar disorder are almost always mood-stabilizers like Lithium, the first mood-stabilizer approved by the FDA for treatment of mania. Doctors also prescribe a variety of anti-convulsant drugs like Depakote and Tegratol, which sometimes have mood-stabilizing effects. For maximum effect, Lithium is often combined with one of the anti-convulsants. Medication is key in the treatment of bipolar disorder, and can be further helped when used in conjunction with psycho-social treatments, leading to increased mood stability, fewer hospitalizations, and improved functioning in several areas. Bipolar disorder is a complex illness, and its treatment can be as well - for proper diagnosis and treatment, please see a mental health professional. Want to learn more? Check out other videos and sources on this site for more information.More »
Last Modified: 2013-06-07 | Tags »
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Are you currently living with bipolar disorder? How does your story compare to others? Take our survey now to find out!
Last Modified: 2011-08-25 | Tags »
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Irrational irritability, feelings of despair and reckless behavior are a few of the major warning signs of bipolar disorder. Check out this video to learn more.
Transcript: Emotional highs and lows are a normal part of life. But unpredictable moods that shift from frenzied...
Emotional highs and lows are a normal part of life. But unpredictable moods that shift from frenzied euphoria to the sadness, withdrawal and hopelessness of depression are NOT normal. When are these symptoms warning signs of Bipolar Disorder? Nearly six million Americans are affected by Bipolar Disorder, also known as manic depression. Characterized by dramatic mood swings between opposite poles of mania (or hypomania) and depression, this disorder can result in reckless behavior, damaged relationships, debilitating depression and thoughts of death or suicide. While mood swings don't NECESSARILY mean Bipolar Disorder, behavioral extremes such as talking incessantly, excessive overconfidence and promiscuity, or fatigue, despair and withdrawal MAY be strong indicators of the illness. Similarly, when a person's mood seems to change from feeling on top of the world and loving life one moment, to feeling completely worthless and detached the next, Bipolar Disorder MAY be the culprit. These intense up and down mood swings are called "episodes," and a person with Bipolar Disorder may experience extreme changes in emotional state, energy levels, and sleeping and eating patterns, depending on whether they're in a manic or hypomanic episode, or experiencing a depressive episode. Warning signs of bipolar mania may include: rapid, virtually non-stop speech, with the person jumping suddenly from one thought to another. Irrational anger and irritability, extreme arrogance, inflated self-esteem, unrealistic goals, difficulty concentrating and a significantly decreased need for sleep may also signal mania. Other, more serious signs of mania typically involve extravagant spending and alcohol or drug abuse, as well as impulsive acts such as gambling, stealing, or inappropriate and risky sexual behavior. Signs of severe mania may be even more serious-and obvious-including delusions that can range from feeling invincible or godlike, to hearing voices. Sufferers may also believe they're the victim of a conspiracy, or have a special connection with a celebrity or political figure. In contrast, signs of hypomania, a milder, less severe form of mania, may not be so easy to identify because it may often be overlooked as simply an outgoing, energetic and optimistic personality. A person experiencing hypomania may also be highly productive and creative. These characteristics often result in hypomania appearing as a pleasant state, rather than a problem. However, studies show hypomania can also result in severe agitation, anger and irritability, and may evolve into mania or even serious depression. Warning signs of Bipolar Disorder also include depression symptoms, such as persistent sadness, hopelessness, pessimism, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, withdrawal from friends and family, decreased energy, anger, irritability, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and preoccupation with death or suicide. If you recognize yourself or someone you know in the signs and symptoms described here, please see a mental health professional.More »
Last Modified: 2013-10-01 | Tags »
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Bipolar II disorder is a common type of bipolar disorder that involves irritable mood. This is a milder form of bipolar disorder. Watch this video for more information.
Transcript: There are various types of Bipolar Disorder, each distinguished by the pattern and severity of symptoms....
There are various types of Bipolar Disorder, each distinguished by the pattern and severity of symptoms. The most common type is believed to be Bipolar II Disorder. Bipolar II Disorder may be considered a milder form of Bipolar Disorder. The most severe type being Bipolar I Disorder, which includes intense manic and depressive symptoms. Bipolar II Disorder sufferers typically experience lower-grade "hypomanic" episodes of euphoric or irritable mood. Symptoms of hypomania include excessive energy, decreased need for sleep, impulsiveness, racing thoughts, irritability, impatience, inflated self-esteem, loud, rapid talking, along with "life of the party" behavior. Hypomania symptoms may be overlooked as personality traits because sufferers may simply appear outgoing and optimistic, while others seem highly creative or productive. Some may even find the hypomanic phase pleasurable. Experts say these aspects often make diagnosing hypomania difficult. But hypomania isn't always be a pleasant state. Studies show the symptoms can be extremely negative for some, resulting in severe agitation and difficulty concentrating. It's not uncommon for people with Bipolar II Disorder to not recognize hypomania as a symptom and only seek professional help for depression. Hypomania may also lead to reckless and impulsive behavior, resulting in absences from work or school, spending money unwisely or sexual indiscretions, all of which may have harmful consequences. Without treatment, an episode of hypomania may continue for days, a few weeks or even a few months-and may escalate into full mania. Those with Bipolar II Disorder also typically experience episodes of depression, with symptoms like persistent sadness, hopelessness, pessimism, loss of interest in activities, decreased energy or fatigue, as well as thoughts of death or suicide. Studies suggest episodes of depression with Bipolar II Disorder may occur more frequently and with greater intensity in comparison to episodes of hypomania. Experts also believe that the severity of the depressive episodes may greatly increase sufferers' risk of suicide. An episode of depression may closely follow a hypomanic episode, or occur much later. Some may cycle between hypomania and depression, or may experience lengthy periods of normal mood in between episodes. In general, symptoms of Bipolar II Disorder occur MORE frequently in women then men. Women tend to experience depression as the dominant symptom, while men tend to experience equal occurrences of hypomania and depression. Bipolar II Disorder generally appears in late teens or early adulthood and typically develops BEFORE age 50. It may occur in young children as well, and having an immediate family member with Bipolar Disorder increases the risk. Research suggests that Bipolar II Disorder sufferers may have an imbalance in important brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine, each of which plays a role in mood and emotions. Bipolar II Disorder is also associated with substance abuse, as well as anxiety and personality disorders. According to the American Psychiatric Association, diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder involves at minimum one hypomanic episode lasting at least four days, and one or more episodes of depression. Most people with Bipolar II Disorder CAN be effectively treated and lead normal lives with a combination of mood-stabilizing and antidepressant medications, and psychotherapy. If you think you may be suffering from Bipolar II Disorder, see a mental health professional.More »
Last Modified: 2013-06-04 | Tags »
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Bipolar disorder is not an easy illness to cope with, but having it can change a person's worldview and teach important lessons. Learn how bipolar disorder informed Christopher's personality.
Transcript: So now that I'm decades out from being diagnosed clearly I don't go around and have a big sign on me...
So now that I'm decades out from being diagnosed clearly I don't go around and have a big sign on me saying, advertising I'm bipolar. But at the same time there's a strong effect that it still has on daily life. That comes into play in my interaction with other people. Even though I don't tell my patients necessarily about my own bipolar as I work with them it gives me a different understanding whether it's bipolar that they're dealing with or something else that I really can relate to them in a way that someone who doesn't have the illness or hasn't gone through a similar type of experience can't relate to them. And so those experiences that are 20 some odd years old are still one that are very present for me in the way that I lead my life today. So faith has always been an important aspect in my life and my relationship with God is certainly a key part, an important part in going through and having this understanding of what's really going on and helping me through this whole process. During the times I was in solitary, a lot of the time I didn't mind it. .... It was a way for me to just not have to worry about any fears of anything else that was going on around me and just spend time with God. And when I came back and talked with the committee for preparing for ministry, their whole statement to me was, "the way we hear you talk about the concern for the other patients, the way we hear you talk about the situations that you found yourself in--those are signs of ministry. So we see this as not being an impediment at all. We're very supportive that you're continuing the process." So that was a positive even with a negative experience. Inside the church there's a group that I actually chaired for several years, Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network, and in that network we've actually at times we've sat around and we've talked about what does it mean to be made whole? What does it mean to be made well?... And some people in that group really feel that for them to have abundant life would mean having their illness taken away from them. But what I found is that having the illness and the way that it has made me dependent with God and the way it has added to my relationship with God--taking it away would actually be removing wholeness and it would be removing some of that health. It actually can be health even in the midst of an illness. And that was a great lesson to learn from God in the course of going through this.More »
Last Modified: 2013-07-03 | Tags »
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Carter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008. See how he managed his illness while maintaining a balance of stability and creativity in his life.
Transcript: Being bipolar I think is a sort of complicated personality trait that's hard to manage because it's very...
Being bipolar I think is a sort of complicated personality trait that's hard to manage because it's very difficult to know when you're up what is real. And I've just recently understood that bipolar informed a lot of my behavior. I started drinking when I was twelve and drank alcoholically until I moved to New York City. I ended as a heroin addict so I was a junkie. And I realized that I could do something or die in New York City as a junkie. So I got sober and I've been sober about sixteen years now. So I believe, yeah, I was self-medicating. Initially I was terrified about how the drugs made me feel; terrified that I was going to lose part of myself by giving up this bipolar. And especially the very drugged out feeling I had and I look at it now as a very black year....It was really hard. You know, when you're used to being sort of high and depressed simultaneously, getting out on a mood stabilizer really screws with the chemistry of your body and it turns you into a zombie. My friends noticed it. "We don't like the new you." You know, "you're not yourself." Um, "are you sure you're bipolar." The first two years, I think, were all about doubt and really depression and low self-esteem. I continued to change psychiatrists until I finally found one who happened to be very young and immediately put me on a new medication and said, "you don't need to be doped up to deal with bipolar." And we finally found a mood stabilizer that worked. I feel really good about my current level of treatment. I'm as a creative as I've ever been. Creativity is like, what I do. It's a primary sense of identification I have. I love pottery-- recently that's been my thing. Really into the sort of mechanics of it. It's fun to work in mud and get dirty that way. My writing takes up a lot of time and so I sort of balance writing with that. I was recently in a group show with some writing that I framed, you know, like slips from my 17 years of journal keeping. I still get off on going on spending sprees and I manage it now with talk therapy, you know, bouncing stuff off other people. "Does this seem a little off to you?" and I have friends who will tell me, "dude." .... I see a therapist twice a week, group therapy once a week, psychiatrist once a month and it's very difficult to see that I'm really up. ... and I've just recently become aware of the stigma of bipolar and I've thought about being so free with the information but I think ultimately it's a service. I think the more bipolar people who say, "I'm bipolar" ... I think it's less of an issue. But yeah, wear it loud, wear it proud. I tell a lot of people.More »
Last Modified: 2013-07-03 | Tags »
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Bipolar disorder is treatable, but only if you have the right doctors advocating for you. Get advice on the search for the right psychiatrist from someone who has successfully treated her bipolar disorder for a decade.
Transcript: I've always stayed in treatment. I've never taken any breaks; I've never stopped taking medication. The...
I've always stayed in treatment. I've never taken any breaks; I've never stopped taking medication. The entirety of my twenties was basically just being in and out of hospitals and trying so many different medications. I mean, I've been on every psychiatric medication that's available on the market except for ones that have maybe come out in the past seven years. The reality is that sometimes it takes a very long time to stabilize ... but I did find a way to get beyond all of that frantic in and out of the hospital kind of existence. I had the wrong doctor for a long time so that was a big part of it was finding a good doctor who was willing to work with me in partnership rather than just sort of dictate terms because a lot of the psychiatrists I saw would see me for fifteen minutes per month. And there's actually nothing that you can determine about a person's life or psyche in fifteen minutes per month and let alone, the complicated task of prescribing medication for them. The wrong doctors will ruin everything and especially doctors who don't respect the problem of side effects because the side effects are there and the doctors will say, "don't you want to be well? So what if there's a little dry mouth." The doctors don't take the medication so they don't know. I would love for them to take them and then see how it interrupts your life....So finding the right doctor is everything. I have a doctor who's...if I say "I can't take this anymore because of X side effect." It doesn't really matter if he thinks that's valid or not. It's my opinion, you know. And so he'll say, "OK well, let's try something else." When I meet somebody who's just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, my first question is: who diagnosed you and what kind of doctor are you seeing? And who put you on meds and kind of meds? You can end up seeing the wrong doctor for a very long time just because you're intimidated or they make you feel that you can't be yourself. So, I always make sure, "...are you seeing a doctor who's seeing you for at least 40 minutes once a week, if it's an initial diagnosis? I think that psychotherapy is really helpful because everybody confronts challenges...but particularly when you deal with living with a chronic illness of any kind ... it's really helpful to have someone that you can go to--I mean, I go twice a month-- you know and say, "this happened, I had a reaction to it and it felt different than the reaction that other people had to it and it just threw me off." And have a conversation about that and then, you know, you leave and you feel better. So, my dog died at some point and the person I'm doing psychotherapy with said, "this is a really hard time for anyone but you may be more vulnerable. Let's talk about what to expect and what's coming next and let's maybe get together more often." And that's a really important support function to have in your life.More »
Last Modified: 2013-07-16 | Tags »
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It wasn't easy for Kelle to find the right treatment for her bipolar disorder. She tried different medications and sought out effective psychotherapy as well. Learn about her treatment journey and how she was able to get stable.
Transcript: I've been living with bipolar disorder for about ten years, now. I went from like, one medication to...
I've been living with bipolar disorder for about ten years, now. I went from like, one medication to another. Switched around a bunch of times. I'd say it took about 8 months to get on a mixture of a few different cocktails, you know actually after going through them, and I was on three at one time. And then after a few years they started taking me off one that they didn't feel was so necessary and then they took me off another. Now I'm just on the last one and that's been working amazing and I feel great. And then when they started me on what I'm on now, that involves weight gain, severe weight gain. So I gained about 80 pounds being on the medication and to the date now, you know, we're talking ten years later but I'm down about 45 pounds. The medication that I'm on...... what would happen to your children, basically, would be that they would have a severe birth defect which could be either autism or, you know, severe cranial abnormalities or a heart defect or anything like that. I do definitely want to have a child so, you know, at some point in my future adoption a definitely something that I would look into. The motivation of the medication therapy and all that is definitely just life. Family, friends, being able to get up every morning and do what I do. ... I can just take this pill and be able to go on with my life and live and do the things that I enjoy and I don't see anything wrong with that. I'm so past the "having to take a pill every day, oh my god." Without my talk therapy, I honestly don't know what I would be doing. I actually, like, live for my therapist. She is my go-to, she's my supporter, she's my guidance, you know. I can text her with a problem and call her and she'll be right there, obviously aside from my family, but that talk therapy is so, so important. I am definitely better equipped now. I would chalk that up to past increase in my dosage of the medication that I'm on right now.. It allowed me to quit smoking; it allowed me to just feel so much better about me being able to handle situations better and I guess that's what, you know, I needed so it...I definitely look at the glass half full instead of half empty now.More »
Last Modified: 2013-08-01 | Tags »
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