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We all have heard about Bipolar disorder at some point in our lives, even in the movies there is a plethora of Bipolar characters; But the real question is, what exactly is this 'Bipolar disorder'?

Bipolar disorder or bipolar depression or manic depression. The defining feature of Bipolar disorder is mania. During this mania the individual behaves abnormally energetic, happy or irritable. In this class of disorder, the victim goes through episodes of depression and periods of mania, experiencing extremely low moods that meet the criteria for major depression.

What are the signs and symptoms of Bipolar disorder? And what are its causes?

In bipolar disorder, the victim's mood change very quickly. For example, they may feel seriously depressed at one moment and irritated or euphoric the next. Bipolar people have bad episodes of mania where they may experience psychosis, delusions and hallucinations. They may lose touch with reality, feel frustrated, have racing thoughts and feel manic. Stress and conflicts can set off these episodes of mania in bipolar people. This disorder may have links with the victim's family history. A person suffering from bipolar disorder also experiences lack of sleep, negative outlook on life and even suicidal tendencies in extreme cases. 30-40% of Bipolar disorder victims show self-harm tendencies. Some environmental factors contribute to bipolar disorder too, they may be long-term stress and history of childhood abuse.

How does Bipolar disorder work its cycle?

Commonly, after an episode of mania, an episode of depression follows. Milder levels of mania are termed as hypomania.

Bipolar disorder is of two types- Bipolar I disorder if it includes at least one manic episode and Bipolar II disorder if there is one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode.

Manic episodes:

Mania is a period of elevated or irritable mood which may even take the form of euphoria. During a manic episode, the person displays following behavior- racing thoughts, rapid uninterrupted speaking, increase in goal oriented activities, agitation, impulsive behavior, excessive money expenditure and hypersexuality. This behavior usually impairs the victim's ability to socialize or work. A manic episode left untreated may last for three to six months. Such individuals often fall prey to substance abuse because of their thrill-seeking urges and impaired judgment. The victims start to have deluded ideas and psychosis and lose control over themselves, often leading to violent behavior. Change in mood, appetite, increase in anxiety and sleep disturbances often foreshadow a manic episode.

Hypomania episodes:

 A milder form of mania that has less of an effect on the victim's ability to work and socialize. Hypomania lacks the delusional and hallucinating symptoms of mania and does not require the victim to be hospitalized in a psychiatric facility. Hypomanic people generally show a significant increase in creativity, activity and energy levels though they still demonstrate poor judgment. Hypomanic people often deny anything is wrong but their mood swings can be uncontrolled, volatile and mercurial.

Depressive episodes:

A person going through depressive episodes may experience persistent feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt, sleeping problems, self-loathing, lack of enjoyment in otherwise enjoyable activities, isolation, suicidal thoughts, lack of concentration, loss of interest in sexual activities, irritability and chronic pain. Psychosis, delusion and mild case of hallucinations are also observed.

Mixed affective episodes:

Sometimes a Bipolar person may show symptoms of mania as well as depression such as suicidal thoughts, guilt and anxiety at the same time. Hopelessness mixed with impulse control disorder and mood swings can make the victim a harm to themselves. Anxiety disorder is a byproduct of these episodes.

How can Bipolar disorder be treated?

A person suffering from bipolar disorder can be given medications such as mood stabilizers (commonly lithium and anticonvulsants) as well as psychotherapy. If the victim is a harm to him/herself and refuse to be treated, then they may be hospitalized against their consent. Use of antidepressants is not recommended during episodes of mania unless combined with mood stabilizers. If the above mentioned treatments prove futile, the victim can be treated.

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