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Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder characterized by intermittent moods and fitful energy levels thus affecting the ability of the patient to function normally. The disorder affects the neurons in the brain, hence causing uncoordinated functions of the brain. The functions of the brain rely upon the intermittent moods of depression and mania that characterize the disorder.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) observes that, “manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live … brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide” (2002).
The disorder mostly affects adults although some cases in children occur due to the inheritable nature of the disorder. Prevalence studies by the American Psychiatric Association shows that, approximately 1.5% of the American adults suffer from bipolar disorder. Given the fact that the disorder is long-term, proper handling mechanisms is paramount to both the patients and health professionals. This essay explores the nature of the bipolar disorder and its management.
Signs and symptoms
The bipolar disorder causes periodic episodes of depression and mania in patients. The intermittent depressive and manic episodes affect the physical and psychological functions of the patients causing them to have abnormal behaviors. During the depressive episode, the patient experiences low moods and loss of interests in the daily activities.
The signs and symptoms of depressive episode include anxiety, feeling of helplessness, loss of pleasure in activities, fatigue, petulance, sleep disturbance, suicidal feelings, and chronic pain amongst other clinical symptoms. “In severe cases, the individual may become psychotic, a condition also known as severe bipolar depression with psychotic features such as delusions or, less commonly, hallucinations, usually unpleasant” (Grier, & Wilkins, 2007, p.2).
The state of severe bipolar depression may last for about two weeks to several months in adults but in children, it may take several hours to days. Patients at the depressive episode have low mood and energy to perform usual activities.
During the manic episode, the patient experiences high mood with high energy levels in the body that results into increased body activity. The signs and symptoms of the manic episode include increased activity, extreme irritability, high energy levels, little sleep, aggressive, poor judgment and distractibility amongst other symptoms. If these signs and symptoms occur daily for a period of two weeks, then the patient is in the manic episode. The activity of the patient is due to the high energy levels that the body generates.
At some instances, patient may experience moderate effects of mania referred to as hypomania; “Hypomania may feel good to the person who experiences it and may even be associated with good functioning and enhanced productivity … ” (Simeonova, & Chang, 2005, p.5). Apart from depressive and manic episodes, a patient can also experience mixed episodes of the bipolar disorder and this complicates the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of the disorder.
Causes of the Disorder
Scientists have discovered that a bipolar disorder occurs due to the combination of different factors. Many scientific studies suggest that the possible causes of the bipolar disorder are genetic, environmental, and physiological conditions. Genetic studies indicate that, “children with a parent or sibling who has bipolar disorder are four to six times more likely to develop the illness, compared with children who do not have a family history of bipolar disorder” (Simeonova, & Chang, 2005, p.624).
This implies that the bipolar disorder is genetic disease and that parents with the disorder predispose their kids to the same. Family history studies of the patients suffering from the bipolar disorder revealed that, at least one or more members of their families had suffered from some other psychiatric condition if not bipolar disorder. The prevalence of the disorder to certain families proves that it is a genetic disorder.
Further scientific studies have proved that environmental conditions also can cause bipolar disorder. Prospective and case studies reveal that the historical experiences of the patients determine their susceptibility to the bipolar disorder. “There have been repeated findings that between a third and a half of adults diagnosed with bipolar disorder report traumatic/abusive experiences in childhood, which is associated on average with earlier onset, a worse course, and more co-occurring disorders” (Simeonova, & Chang, 2005, p. 625).
These findings affirmed that interaction of the genetic and environmental conditions influence the susceptibility to the bipolar disorder. Case studies of adult patients showed that they experienced harsh environmental conditions as compared with those having with the genetic predisposition.
Another cause of the bipolar disorder is the physiological condition of the brain due to its structure. The comparative examination of brains shows that bipolar patients have relatively abnormal brain structure. Imaging studies reveal, “…the pattern of brain development in children with bipolar disorder was similar to that in children with ‘multi-dimensional impairment,’ a disorder that causes symptoms that overlap somewhat with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia” (NIMH, 2002).
The abnormal structure of the brain affects the physiological chemicals that are critical in normal functioning of the brain. For instance, insufficient neurotransmitters and neuron with defects contribute in causing the bipolar disorder.
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Diagnosis and Treatment
The diagnosis and the treatment of the bipolar disorder require the concerted efforts of the family and psychiatrists. The family members should aid the psychiatrist by noting the clinical symptoms and providing the historical information for the psychiatrist to ascertain the cause of the disorder. “Anyone who is thinking about committing suicide needs immediate attention, preferably from a mental health professional or a physician …anyone who talks about suicide should be taken seriously” (NIMH, 2002).
Family members should note the conditions of the patient and report them to the psychiatrist who will conduct diagnostic procedures. For example, a psychiatrist may conduct brain scan and blood test to rule out complications of a tumor before considering the disorder as a bipolar disorder.
The psychiatrist will then evaluate the diagnostics tests and determine whether the condition is a bipolar disorder or not. Information concerning family history with regard to the disorder coupled with some clinical signs in most cases is enough to determine if the condition under investigation is bipolar disorder or not.
Since bipolar disorder is a long-term illness, the management of the disorder entails the use of chemotherapy and psychotherapy techniques.
Chemotherapy involves the use of medications that control and alleviates the devastating clinical symptoms. Usually, “…people with bipolar disorder continue treatment with mood stabilizers for extended periods of time and other medications are added when necessary, typically for shorter periods, to treat episodes of mania or depression that break through despite the mood stabilizer” (Simeonova, & Chang, 2005, p.628).
These medications are very important in regulating and stabilizing intermittent moods that characterize the bipolar disorder. Lithium and valproate are very effective drugs in stabilizing the mood of the patients for they are mood stabilizers.
Psychotherapy is another method used in treating bipolar disorder. Many psychiatrists have found out that psychotherapy can be very effective in stabilizing the mood of the patient. “Cognitive behavioral therapy, family focused therapy and psycho-education have the most evidence for efficacy in regard to relapse prevention, while interpersonal and social rhythm therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy appear the most effective in regard to residual depressive symptoms” (Grier, & Wilkins, 2007, p.10).
Cognitive behavioral therapy and psycho-education helps the patient to recognize and control the negative moods. Focused family therapy encourages the family members to create a homely environment that will not trigger moods swings of the patient. For effective treatment, family environment and medication are essential in management of the bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is a neurological and psychological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. Periodic moods changes characterize the disorder in that the patients experience manic and depressive episodes depending on the psychological condition. The signs and symptoms vary from low moods through intermediate moods to high moods.
Varied studies have shown that physiological, environmental, and genetic factors predispose an individual to the bipolar disorder. Although the disorder is a long-term illness, chemotherapy and psychotherapy has proved to be the current effective ways of managing the disorder. In the view of the technological advancement, scientists are still designing effective chemotherapy methods coupled with other clinical interventions that would help in managing the disorder in a better way.
Grier, E., & Wilkins, A. (2007). Bipolar Disorder: Educational Implication for Secondary Students. National Associations of Psychologists, 1-12.
National Institute of Mental Health. (2002). Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from <https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml>
Simeonova, D., & Chang, K. (2005). Creativity in Familial Bipolar Disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 39 (7), 623-631.