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What Is Bipolar Disorder?

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a common condition affecting around 1 in 100 adults at some point in their lives. Worldwide, it affects about 254 million people, with 2.4 million in the UK.

It’s a brain disorder that often causes unusual shifts in a persons mood and energy. There are four basic types of bipolar disorder; all of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely elated, excited and energetic (known as manic episodes) to very down or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

The 4 types of Bipolar Disorder are:

  • Bipolar I Disorder— defined by manic episodes that last at least 1 week, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive episodes will occur as well, usually lasting at least 2 weeks.
  • Bipolar II Disorder— defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, however not as manic episodes described above.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder (also called cyclothymia)— defined by multiple periods of hypomanic symptoms as well multiple periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years. However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.
  • Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders— defined by bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match the three categories listed above.

Treatment options for bipolar disorder

If a person isn’t treated, episodes of bipolar-related mania can last between three and six months however, with effective treatment, episodes usually improve within about three months.

Treatment can include 1 or more of the following:

  • medication to prevent episodes of mania, hypomania and depression – these are known as mood stabilisers and are taken every day on a long-term basis
  • medication to treat the main symptoms of depression and mania when they occur
  • learning to recognise the triggers and signs of an episode of depression or mania
  • psychological treatment – such as talking therapies, which help you deal with depression and provide advice on how to improve relationships
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