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Bipolar Disorder Health Center

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Bipolar Episodes With Mixed Features

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What Are the Symptoms of a Mixed Features Episode? continued...

This may seem impossible. How can someone be manic and depressed at the same time? The high energy of mania with the despair of depression are not mutually exclusive symptoms, and their co-occurrence may be much more common than people realize. 

For example, a person in an episode with mixed features could be crying uncontrollably while announcing they have never felt better in their life. Or they could be exuberantly happy, only to suddenly collapse in misery. A short while later they might suddenly return to an ecstatic state.

Mood episodes with mixed features can last from days to weeks or sometimes months if untreated. They  may recur ,and recovery can be slower than during episodes of "pure" bipolar depression or "pure" mania or hypomania.

What Are the Risks of Mixed Features During Mood Episodes of Bipolar Disorder?

The most serious risk of mixed features during a manic or depressive episode is suicide. People with bipolar disorder are 10 to 20 times more likely to commit suicide than people without bipolar disorder. Tragically, as many as 10% to 15% of people with bipolar disorder eventually lose their lives to suicide.

Evidence shows that during episodes with mixed features, people may be at even higher risk for suicide than people in episodes of bipolar depression.

Treatment reduces the likelihood of serious depression and suicide. Lithium in particular, taken long term, may help to reduce the risk of suicide.

People with bipolar disorder are also at higher risk for substance abuse. Nearly 60% of people with bipolar disorder abuse drugs or alcohol. Substance abuse is associated with more severe or poorly controlled bipolar disorder.

What Are the Treatments for Mood Episodes With Mixed Features in Bipolar Disorder?

Manic or depressive episodes with mixed features generally require treatment with medication. Unfortunately, such episodes are more difficult to control than an episode of pure mania or depression. The main drugs used to treat episodes with mixed features are mood stabilizers and antipsychotics.

Mood Stabilizers

While lithium is often considered a gold standard treatment for mania, it may be less effective when mania and depression occur simultaneously, as in a manic episode with mixed features. Lithium has been used for more than 60 years to treat bipolar disorder. It can take weeks to work fully, making it better for maintenance treatment than for acute manic episodes. Blood levels of lithium and other lab test results must be monitored to avoid side effects.

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