Who Gets Bipolar Disorder?
When someone develops bipolar disorder, it usually starts when they're in late adolescence or young adulthood. Rarely, it can happen earlier in childhood. Bipolar disorder can run in families.
Men and women are equally likely to get it. Women are somewhat more likely than men to go through "rapid cycling," which is having four or more distinct mood episodes within a year. Women also tend to spend more time depressed than men with bipolar disorder.
Many people with the condition abuse alcohol or other drugs when manic or depressed. People with seasonal depression and certain anxiety disorders, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are also more likely to have bipolar disorder.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
There is no single cause. Genes, brain changes, and stress can all play a role.
Researchers are studying how these factors affect bipolar disorder.
How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?
If you or someone you know has symptoms of bipolar disorder, talk to your family doctor or a psychiatrist. They will ask questions about mental illnesses that you, or the person you're concerned about, have had, and any mental illnesses that run in the family. You'll also get a checkup.
Diagnosing bipolar disorder is all about the person's symptoms and determining whether they may be the result of another cause (such as low thyroid, or mood symptoms caused by drug or alcohol abuse). How severe are they? How long have they lasted? How often do they happen?
The most telling symptoms are those that involve highs or lows in mood, along with changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior.
Talking to close friends and family of the person can often help the doctor distinguish bipolar disorder from major depression or other psychiatric disorders that can involve changes in mood, thinking, and behavior.
What Are the Treatments for Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder can be treated. It's a long-term condition that needs ongoing care.
Medication is the main treatment, usually involving "mood stabilizers" such as lithium, Depakote, Tegretol or Lamictal, and sometimes antipsychotic drugs as well as antidepressants. Psychotherapy, or "talk therapy," is often recommended, too.
People who have four or more episodes of mood changes in a year, or who also have drug or alcohol problems, can have forms of the illness that are much harder to treat.