Bipolar disorder, also referred to as manic-depressive illness, is a mood disorder in which there are episodes of both mania (times of abnormal elation and increased activity) and depression (times of abnormal sadness and melancholy). In the manic phase, the mood of the individual is euphoric or irritable. Some combination of decreased need for sleep, increased activity, talkativeness, rapid thoughts, a short attention span, and an inflated self-esteem may be exhibited. Delusions (false beliefs) or hallucinations (voices) may accompany the manic phase, but usually this is due to the inflated self-esteem, or comes at a time when the individual may be having a difficult time deciding what is real and what is not real.
In the depressed phase of the illness, the mood is sad or irritable. Individuals in this phase may have difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, have a poor appetite and weight loss, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and loss of interest in their usual activities.
Persons with bipolar disorder usually have periodic episodes of either mania or depression. It is rare for an individual to cycle from mania or depression and back to mania. Most will have several episodes of either mania or depression. The reoccurrence of the illness may only happen every few years.
Bipolar disorder affects approximately 2.6% of the U.S. adult population in any given year. The illness usually begins in late adolescence, but can begin in early childhood or as late as one’s forties or even fifties. There is a strong genetic component related to bipolar disorder; however, genetics do not always predict who will develop the condition.
Bipolar disorder is a chronic and recurrent disorder that significantly affects the daily lives of many individuals and their families. Most individuals with the disorder require some form of treatment for the rest of their lives. A strategy that combines medication and other psychosocial supports and treatment is optimal for managing the disorder over time. When properly treated, people with this illness can and do lead full and productive lives.
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