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.
Treatment can make a huge difference. With a combination of things -- good medical care, medication, talk therapy, lifestyle changes, and the support of friends and family -- you can feel better. Bipolar disorder -- or manic depression, as it used to be called -- may not have a cure. But plenty of people with this condition do well; they have families and jobs and live normal lives.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
There are two major types of bipolar disorder.
Type I causes periods of mania that often alternate with periods of depression. These periods might last for weeks or months.
Type II causes periods of depression that alternate with a less severe form of mania called hypomania.
There are also other types of bipolar disorder. Cyclothymia is characterized by frequent but milder changes in your mood. Rapid cycling is a term used to describe cases of bipolar I or II, in which mood episodes occur 4 or more times over a 1-year period. Women are more likely to have this type of bipolar disorder than men and it tends to develop later in the course of the illness. Rapid cycling increases the risk for severe depression and suicide.
Whatever type of bipolar disorder you have, there is a still lot of variation from person to person. While some people are beset with frequent serious mood swings, others go years or even decades before having another. Everyone's experience is different.
Bipolar disorder can make you feel utterly alone. But that really isn't the case. More than 2 million adults in the U.S. are coping with bipolar disorder right now.
It's important not to blame yourself for your condition. Bipolar disorder is a physical illness, not a sign of personal weakness. It's like diabetes, heart disease, or any other health condition.
The important thing is to focus on the future. Living with bipolar disorder can be tough. But don't let it hijack your life. Instead, take action and regain control of your health. With dedication and the help of your health care providers, you can feel better again.
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Joseph Goldberg, MD on October 02, 2012