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Bipolar Disorder Overview

Written by FoundHealth, sshowalter.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depression, is a treatable condition that typically causes extreme swings in mood, thought, energy, and behavior. There can often periods of normal mood between episodes. This medical problem is not due to personal weakness or a character flaw.

The mood swings associated with bipolar disorder are different from the average ups and downs experienced by everybody in life. In severe cases, bipolar disorder can be associated with psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, or thought disorganization. These symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. When treated appropriately, people with this condition can lead full and productive lives.

Bipolar disorder affects an estimated 2.6% of American adults (18 and older). The condition typically develops in late adolescence or early adulthood. However, some people have their first symptoms during childhood, and some develop symptoms late in life. Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed by a medical professional throughout a person's life.

The cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but it tends to run in families. Specific genes may play a role, but it is not caused by one single gene. Additional factors, including stressors at home, work, or school, are believed to be involved in its onset.

People with bipolar disorder are at increased risk for suicide, substance abuse, and high risk behaviors such as reckless driving and sexual promiscuity. Anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, tend to occur at a higher rate in people with bipolar disorder.

What are the risk factors for bipolar disorder?

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

What are the treatments for bipolar disorder?

Are there screening tests for bipolar disorder?

How can I reduce my risk of bipolar disorder?

What questions should I ask my doctor?

Where can I get more information about bipolar disorder?



American Psychiatric Association. Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.; 2000.

Bipolar disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: . Revised 2008. Accessed on November 22, 2009.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based injury statistics query and reporting system (WISQARS). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: . Accessed November 22, 2009.

Estevez RF, Suppes T. Maintenance treatment in bipolar I disorder. In: Yatham LN, Kusumakar V, ed. Bipolar Disorder: A Clinician’s Guide to Biological Treatments.New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC; 2009: 107-152.

Merikangas KR, Akiskal HS, Angst J, et al. Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of bipolar spectrum disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry.2007;64:543-552.

The numbers count: mental disorders in America. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: . Updated 2010. Accessed August 24, 2010.

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