Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes a person to experience unusual and often dramatic mood shifts. A person suffering from this illness, also known as manic depression, may also experience sudden changes in energy levels and changes in the ability to function normally.
While all people experience mood swings every now and then, the shifts that a person suffering from this condition experiences are severe and debilitating. Luckily, there are treatments available to help those who suffer from bipolar disorder.
Manic and Depressive Episodes in Bipolar Disorder
People who have this illness experience episodes of elevated mood (mania) followed by periods of depression. During mania, a person experiences:
- increased creativity
- increased energy levels
- reckless behavior.
In addition, people experiencing mania often sleep very little and become very talkative.
When people enter the depressive state, they experience symptoms similar to those of extreme depression, including:
- decreased energy levels
- feelings of hopelessness
- increased sleep
- suicidal thoughts.
Researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint a single cause of the disease. Some people with the condition have a genetic predisposition toward bipolar disorder or a family history of the illness.
A person who is genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder, however, may only experience symptoms in response to an event, such as a traumatic experience.
However, some people who have the illness have no genetic link to or family history of the disease.
Researchers believe bipolar disorder can be linked to the following:
- Biological Rhythms: Some researchers believe that an abnormal sleep-wake cycle and disturbances in a person’s circadian rhythm contribute to the disease.
- Brain Metabolism: Tests have revealed that the brain metabolism of a bipolar person differs from that of a healthy person. During states of mania or depression, certain areas of a bipolar person’s brain are more active than normal.
- Hormonal Imbalances: People suffering from the disease have been found to have high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, they often have abnormal levels of thyroid hormone.
- Imbalances in Neurotransmitters: Serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are all neurotransmitters that help us regulate our moods. Imbalances in these chemicals can cause mood swings in a person with the illness.
Bipolar Disorder Triggers
Certain triggers can cause manic or depressive episodes in a person who either has or who is predisposed to the condition. Triggers can be either environmental or psychological.
Here’s a list of the common bipolar disorder triggers:
- A Major Life Event: When a person experiences a major life event, he is more susceptible to entering an episode. Such major events can include getting married or taking a new job.
- Medication: Some medications, especially antidepressants, can trigger a manic episode in a person. In order to prevent manic episodes in a person with bipolar disorder, a doctor will likely also prescribe a mood stabilizer. Certain over-the-counter medications, caffeine and diet pills can trigger mania.
- Seasonal Changes: People are more likely to experience episodes of mania in the summer and episodes of depression in the winter, fall and spring.
- Sleep Deprivation: Mania can be triggered by insufficient sleep. Losing as little as a few hours of sleep can result in episodes of mania.
- Stress: Extreme stress or emotional trauma can trigger both manic and depressive episodes in a person with the condition. In addition, stress can make a person’s mania or depression last for an extended period of time.
- Substance Abuse: Drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy can trigger mania, while alcohol can trigger depression.
Mayo Clinic Staff (2006). Bipolar disorder. Retrieved July 18, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bipolar-disorder/DS00356.
Segal, Jeanne; Smith, Melinda. (2007). Bipolar Disorder: Learning the Signs, Symptoms and Causes. Retrieved July 18, 2007, from the HelpGuide.org Web site: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/bipolar_disorder_symptoms_treatment.htm.