What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder that is characterised by alternating periods of mania and depression. It was formerly known as manic depression. People with Bipolar Disorder can swing from extreme highs to extreme lows, sometimes very quickly. This can often feel confusing or even frightening for the sufferer and their loved ones.
The good news is that effective treatments are available for people with Bipolar Disorder.
At the London Psychiatry Centre, we have a wealth of knowledge and experience with the condition and can help you take the right steps to move forward in improving your quality of life. The first is recognising there is a problem, and seeking an accurate diagnosis.
Types of Bipolar Disorders
The various types of Bipolar Disorders and their symptoms are described below:
This applies to patients who have one or more manic or mixed episodes, often combined with depression. Patients with Bipolar I Disorder typically have severe manic (high) episodes along with shorter depressive episodes. In other words, they are ‘high’ more often than they are low – which can make this condition hard to recognise.
Patients with Bipolar II Disorder tend to have longer periods of depression that alternate with shorter manic episodes. In other words, depression is the dominant factor.
This is Bipolar Disorder with less obvious highs and lows. Although a comparatively milder condition, it can still have a serious impact on quality of life.
Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BD-NOS)
When a person doesn’t follow all the patterns of other known forms of the condition, they are said to have BD-NOS, and/or sometimes when bipolar occurs as part of other coexisting mental health conditions.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar Disorder is thought to be caused by a combination of biochemical, genetic and environmental factors. It may be due to a lack of serotonin (the ‘happy’ hormone) or an irregular release of dopamine (which helps control a person’s relationship to pleasure and reward) in the brain.
Bipolar Disorder tends to run in families and may lie dormant for years, only to be triggered by a traumatic event such as a relationship break-up, divorce, job loss, change of home, bereavement, etc.
Symptoms of Manic Phase (Mania)
The so-called ‘manic’ stage of the condition means a person is likely to be bursting with energy and ideas, intense and prone to seemingly bizarre behaviour such as excessive spending, heavy drinking or wild sexual behaviour.
- Exaggerated euphoria
- Racing ideas
- Rapid speech
- Reckless behaviour
Symptoms of Depressed Phase (Depression)
While a person battling depression may not realise they have the condition, fortunately it tends to be fairly straightforward for us to identify here at the London Psychiatry Centre.
The patient may feel disproportionately angry or sad, seemingly about nothing. They may have frequent crying bouts and fantasise about dying. Patients often say their lives have become unmanageable, they feel overwhelmed and their confidence is at rock bottom.
- Frequent crying or sad mood
- Lethargy (e.g. not wanting to get up in the morning)
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Obsessive thought patterns
- Feelings of guilt, pessimism and low self-esteem
- Thoughts about/attempts at suicide
Bipolar Disorder Test
Many factors are involved in diagnosing Bipolar Disorder. Factors that we will consider before making a bipolar diagnosis include:
- A patient’s family medical history, such as whether anyone has or have had bipolar disorder/depression
- Any pronounced mood swings – and for how long they have been occurring
We may also suggest a thorough examination to look for illnesses that may be causing the symptoms, such as thyroid problems or possible drug use.
Note: Drug use may cause some bipolar symptoms. But this doesn’t mean the patient doesn’t have bipolar disorder. In fact, they may be ‘self medicating’ their symptoms.
Bipolar Disorder Treatment
Bipolar Disorder can be effectively treated, but there is always a chance it will re-occur. That is why at the London Psychiatry Centre we encourage our patients to practice ongoing awareness, and we are always available should they need any further help. The major goals of treatment are to:
- Treat and reduce the severity of acute episodes of mania or depression when they occur
- Reduce the frequency of episodes
- Avoid the cycling from one phase to another
- Improve the patient’s overall quality of life
An important aspect of treatment is to determine what might have triggered a bipolar episode and work at minimising its negative impact. At the Centre, we work with the patient to identify key emotional triggers and anything that might interfere with the treatments prescribed.
Drugs Used in Bipolar Disorder
- Lithium – Lithium has been used for years for Bipolar Disorder. It remains the most common drug for people with pure mania characterised by euphoria and pure depression
- Anti-seizure Drugs – such as Valproate (valproic acid) carbamazepine (Tegretol, Carbatrol, Equetro), oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), and lamotrigine (Lamictal). These drugs might be an alternative for people who do not respond well to lithium, particularly those with substance abuse problems
- Atypical Anti-psychotics – Drugs known as atypical anti-psychotics are used to treat schizophrenia and also have mood stabilising properties that help treat Bipolar Disorder. They may be used either alone or in combination with lithium or valproate
- Anti-depressants – Anti-depressant drugs (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac) and Effexor are not typically used in treating bipolar disorder as they can trigger manic or mixed episodes. Recent studies have shown that exposure to anti-depressants in bipolar patients produces worse long-term outcomes than no treatment. This is known as mood destabilisation.
In addition to medical treatments, psychotherapy and sleep management are also parts of Bipolar Disorder treatment. They can help reduce symptoms and prevent relapse.
If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from Bipolar Disorder, please contact us. The London Psychiatry Centre is home to the UK’s leading affective disorder experts who can correctly diagnose bipolar disorders and offer suitable treatment programmes.