Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder with distinct periods of extreme euphoria (mania) and sadness or hopelessness (depression). It's also known as manic depression or manic depressive disorder.
Bipolar disorder occurs with similar frequency in men and women. But there are some differences between the sexes in the way the condition is experienced.
For example, a woman is likely to have more symptoms of depression than mania. And female hormones and reproductive factors may influence the condition and its treatment.
Research suggests that in women, hormones may play a role in the development and severity of bipolar disorder. One study suggests that late-onset bipolar disorder may be associated with menopause. Among women who have the disorder, almost one in five reported severe emotional disturbances during the transition into menopause.
Studies have looked at the association between bipolar disorder and premenstrual symptoms. These studies suggest that women with mood disorders, including bipolar disorder, experience more severe symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Other research has shown that women whose disorders are treated appropriately actually have less fluctuation in mood over the course of the menstrual cycle.
The greatest evidence of a hormonal association with bipolar disorder is found during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Women with bipolar disorder who are pregnant or have recently given birth are seven times more likely than other women to be admitted to the hospital for their bipolar disorder. And they are twice as likely to have a recurrence of symptoms.
Treatment for bipolar disorder is targeted at stabilizing mood to avoid the consequences of both the manic and depressive states. In most cases, long-term treatment is required to relieve and prevent bipolar disorder symptoms.
Treatment often involves medication and talk therapy. Drug treatments include:
Some of these drugs carry a warning that their use may increase the risk of suicidal behavior and thoughts in some people. New or worsening symptoms, unusual changes in mood or behavior, or suicidal thoughts or behavior need to be monitored.
Treatment During Pregnancy
Treatment for bipolar disorder is generally the same for men and women. But special treatment considerations are necessary for some women, particularly during pregnancy.
While it is crucial that women continue treatment during pregnancy, risks to the baby are also considered. So treatment regimens may change to minimize risk.
In general, doctors prefer lithium and older drugs such as Haldol (haloperidol) and Thorazine (chlorpromazine) during pregnancy. That's because they have shown less risk than some other drugs to the unborn baby.
Also, because they have been used for longer than the newer drugs, their effects in pregnancy are better established. If women choose to try stopping treatment during pregnancy, doctors often use these drugs if treatment must be resumed.