What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a type of mood disorder. It usually develops in a person’s mid-teens or early adult years, but can affect people of all ages. With proper treatment, many patients are able to control their mood swings. Untreated bipolar disorder can lead to many serious problems, including substance abuse, financial crises, interpersonal difficulties, and increased risk of suicide.
Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
In bipolar disorder, manic symptoms alternate with depressive symptoms. Manic symptoms include:
- Exaggerated euphoria
- Poor concentration
- High energy and decreased need for sleep
- Inflated sense of self-esteem
- Rapid and excessive speech
- Racing thoughts
- Increased intensity in activities
- Impulsivity and poor judgment
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed based on specific criteria defined by the American Psychiatric Association. There are several different types of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is treated with mood stabilizing drugs. They include:
- Lithium is the main medication used for bipolar disorder and is usually the first drug prescribed.
- Antiseizure medications used for bipolar disorder treatment include valproic acid (Depakene, generic), divalproex sodium (Depakote, generic), and lamotrigine (Lamictal, generic).
- Certain types of atypical antipsychotics, which are standard drugs for schizophrenia treatment, are used for treatment of bipolar disorder.
- In some cases, antidepressant drugs may be prescribed to control depressive episodes of bipolar disorder. However, their use is controversial. In some patients, antidepressants can trigger mania.
Many of these drugs are used in combination with one another. Side effects vary depending on the drug. Some of these drugs are not safe for pregnant women or should be used with caution.
Psychotherapy is an important component of treatment. Other types of therapies (like electroconvulsive therapy) may also be used.
Review Date: 01/28/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.