The exact causes of bipolar disorder are unknown. While genes and life stress may contribute to it, experts believe that symptoms may arise from a problem with nerve circuits and areas in the brain that control emotion, thinking, and behavior.
The best treatment for bipolar disorder is often a combination of medication and counseling. Other treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are often successful for people with very severe symptoms who don't respond to traditional therapy or who can't take the medications.
People with bipolar disorder often have cycles of elevated and depressed mood that fit the description of "manic depression." When a person's illness follows this classic pattern, diagnosing bipolar disorder is relatively easy.
But bipolar disorder can be sneaky. Symptoms can defy the expected manic-depressive sequence. Infrequent episodes of mild mania or hypomania can go undetected. Depression can overshadow other aspects of the illness. And substance abuse can cloud the picture.
Doctors sometimes treat the maniasymptoms of bipolar disorder with one set of drugs and the depression symptoms with another, although some mood-stabilizing drugs are effective at treating both kinds of symptoms. Certain drugs are also used for "maintenance" to maintain a steady mood. Antidepressants are usually not used alone because they sometimes cause manic attacks in depressed patients, and they may be less effective for treating bipolar than unipolar depression.
Many people respond well to medications for bipolar disorder. For many others, the symptoms do not completely disappear despite therapy. The mood symptoms may become less intense and more manageable, however.
Remember, getting your diagnosis should come as a relief. Now you know what the problem has been and you're on the road to getting the right treatment.
Mania in Bipolar Disorder
If you are suffering from bipolar mania, your doctor at first may treat you with an anti-manic mood stabilizer and sometimes also an antipsychotic drug and/or a benzodiazepine to quickly control hyperactivity, sleeplessness, hostility, and irritability.
Treating bipolar mania often requires hospitalization because there is high risk for unpredictable, reckless behavior and noncompliance with treatment. For people with extreme mania, pregnant women with mania, or those people whose mania can't be controlled with mood stabilizers, doctors sometimes also recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).