What Is Bipolar Disorder?

People often describe you as a mass of jumbled emotions – enthusiastic one day, then despondent the next. You’re also described as high-energy and are known for skipping meals one day, then binge eating the next. Sometimes, you’re overwhelmed with sadness and guilt about things you can’t control. What’s going on? You may be experiencing warning signs of bipolar disorder.

A Simple Definition

The easiest way to talk about bipolar disorder is to dive into the moods that people experience. If you’re bipolar, it’s not unusual for your moods to go from extremely high to exceptionally low – all suddenly in a short time or gradually before reaching a crescendo. It’s considered a brain disorder, and its symptoms can last days to weeks, while someone without the condition may have similar warning signs that go away within hours.

Facts about bipolar disorder

Many people with mental illness have problems recognizing what’s wrong but learning about your condition is the best way to get diagnosed and find treatment to help manage symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Who gets bipolar disorder?

Anyone can get bipolar disorder, regardless of age, gender, or national origin. Like other mental illnesses, it’s non-discriminatory. According to one study by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, its overall prevalence is 2.8% for adults 18 years of age or older, split mostly evenly between men and women. People 18 to 29 years old get bipolar more than other age groups, but the illness seems to fade the older a person becomes.

What are the symptoms?

As mentioned earlier, bipolar disorder is known for extreme mood changes known as mania or hypomania. But there’s another equally worrisome symptom lurking around the corner of your mind – depression. 

Symptoms of mania can include:

  • Increased activity, high energy, or agitation
  • A sensation of euphoria
  • Less need for sleep
  • Being more talkative than normal

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Depressed moods, like having crying spells or feeling sad, empty, or hopeless. For kids and teens, this may show up as irritability.
  • You’re no longer interested in doing things that used to bring pleasure or joy.
  • Significant weight loss not related to dieting, weight gain, or changes in appetite. In children, not gaining the expected weight may be a sign of depression.
  • Either sleeping too much or too little.
  • You have restlessness or slowed behavior.

Symptoms always vary by person in duration, intensity, and frequency, but can often be treated in different ways. One therapy worth asking about is ketamine infusion.

Are there related conditions?

Yes. Some bipolar disorder warning signs are like those of other conditions, which make it hard for a healthcare provider to offer diagnosis and treatment options. Your illness could be genetic, due to changes in brain structure, or caused by stress or environmental factors. In many cases, you could be at risk of other mental health illnesses or conditions, such as:

  • Psychosis, where you experience hallucinations or delusions.
  • It’s not unusual for someone with bipolar disorder to also experience an anxiety disorder.
  • Many people with bipolar disorder also have, or later develop, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Bipolar disorder and ADHD often co-exist in adults, with as many as 20% being diagnosed with both conditions.
  • Substance abuse disorders often happen in someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In this case, you may crave drugs, alcohol, or other substances if your judgment is impaired during manic episodes.
  • Mood shifts can also trigger eating problems, including disorders like bulimia or binge eating.

Is bipolar disorder contagious?

Bipolar disorder, like other mental illnesses, isn’t contagious. You can’t catch it in the traditional sense because there aren’t any germs involved, but some emotions can affect other people and create similar symptoms. What’s more likely is a phenomenon called social contagion, or the “spread of behaviors, attitudes, and affect” from one person to one or more people, and other kinds of collective social actions from one member to another.

Diagnosis & Treatment

If you have symptoms of bipolar disorder, the only way to know for sure is to see a healthcare professional for diagnosis. Besides a physical examination to confirm or rule out a medical problem for your illness, you can also expect to see a mental health specialist to determine if your emotions, attitude, or behavior are triggering what’s happening. There may be a genetic component to your condition.

Depending on your symptoms and health, effective treatment may include ongoing psychotherapy and antidepressants or other medicine, including ketamine infusion therapy.

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