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What is Bipolar Disorder?
The defining characteristic of bipolar disorder is the experience of mood swings between periods of extreme happiness and unusually deep sadness. Occasional mood swings, of course, are not out of the ordinary for most people, but bipolar sufferers experience mood shifts that are profound and that interfere with the functioning of their daily lives.
Bipolar disorder produces moods that range from extreme mania to major depression, which is why the disorder was once referred to as a manic depression. These manic and depressive states may last for a few months, or they may last for years, and in between episodes, the sufferer may experience relatively normal moods. In some cases, moods may swing wildly and quickly, with several episodes occurring within a single year.
Symptoms of a manic episode include:
- Hyperactivity or suddenly increased energy levels
- Unusually happy or irritable moods
- Disrupted sleep patterns or a decreased need for sleep
- Engagement in risky or impulsive behaviors
- Inability to control racing thoughts
- Changes in speech patterns, including fast or forceful speech
Symptoms of a depressive episode include:
- A decrease in energy levels
- Feelings of extreme sadness or worthlessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Disrupted sleep patterns, including an increase in the need for sleep or insomnia
- Lack of interest in positive activities
- Decreased sex drive
- Bipolar I Disorder. This type of bipolar disorder involves the severe manifestation of manic and depressive symptoms. It is usually diagnosed when a manic episode lasts at least seven days or requires hospitalization. In this type, depressive episodes usually last at least two weeks, and there may be some mixing of symptoms, with signs of mania occurring during depressive episodes and vice versa.
- Bipolar II Disorder. This type of the disorder is generally less severe than Bipolar I. It is typically characterized by the prevalence of depressive episodes and manic episodes that are less extreme and of shorter duration (sometimes called hypomanic episodes) than those in Bipolar I. This type of the disorder is often misdiagnosed as major depression.
- Cyclothymic Disorder. This disorder is characterized by mood swings between mania and depressive moods, but the length and intensity of the episodes are generally less than those of Bipolar I or Bipolar II.
Rapid-Cycling Bipolar. In this manifestation of the disorder, a sufferer experiences four or more distinct episodes of mania, hypomania or depression with a single one-year period. It is not technically a separate type of the disorder, but rather a pattern of symptoms that can occur in people with bipolar disorder.
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