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Bipolar disorder (manic depressive illness)

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a serious medical illness that causes shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

Bipolar disorder often develops in a person's late teens or early adult years. At least half of all cases start before age 25. Some people have their first symptoms during childhood, while others may develop symptoms late in life.

A person may be having an episode of bipolar disorder if he or she has a number of manic or depressive symptoms for most of the day, nearly every day, for at least one or two weeks. Sometimes symptoms are so severe that the person cannot function normally at work, school, or home.

Symptoms of mania or a manic episode include:Symptoms of depression or a depressive episode include:

Mood Changes

  • A long period of feeling "high," or an overly happy or outgoing mood
  • Extremely irritable mood, agitation, feeling "jumpy" or "wired"

Behavioral Changes

  • Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
  • Being easily distracted
  • Increasing goal-directed activities, such as taking on new projects
  • Being restless
  • Sleeping little
  • Having an unrealistic belief in one's abilities
  • Behaving impulsively and taking part in a lot of pleasurable, high-risk behaviors, such as spending sprees, impulsive sex, and impulsive business investments

Mood Changes

  • A long period of feeling worried or empty
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex

Behavioral Changes

  • Feeling tired or "slowed down"
  • Having problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • Being restless or irritable
  • Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
  • Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide

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Treatment

There is no cure for bipolar disorder. But proper treatment helps most people with bipolar disorder gain better control of their mood swings and related symptoms. This is also true for people with the most severe forms of the illness.

Because bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, people with the disorder need long-term treatment to keep control of bipolar symptoms. Treatment for bipolar disorder includes medication and psychotherapy.

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Content last updated March 29, 2010.

Resources last updated March 29, 2010.

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