Bipolar Disorder is a complex mood illness comprising several diverse types, each distinguished by the pattern, frequency, duration and intensity of a person's symptoms. Also known as "manic-depression," Bipolar Disorder is characterized by extreme moods that swing between "poles" of mania and depression. These episodes may range from mild to severe depending on the disorder type: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Rapid Cycling, Mixed Bipolar or Cyclothymia. All Bipolar types experience manic (or hypomanic) and depressive episodes to varying degrees. Mania is typified by sudden euphoria or rage, hyperactivity, inflated self-esteem, racing thoughts, garrulousness, decreased need for sleep, and preoccupation with irrelevant matters. Mania may also include reckless behavior like extravagant shopping sprees, risky sexual activity or foolish investments. Hypomania is a mild form of mania characterized by hyperactivity and euphoria. The depression side of Bipolar Disorder mirrors the symptoms of Major Depression: persistent sadness and fatigue; loss of interest in activities; changes in sleeping and eating patterns; difficulty concentrating; feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness; and thoughts of death or suicide. Of the various Bipolar types, the most severe is Bipolar I Disorder. Those who have this type may experience manic episodes that begin suddenly and last an average of four months. Depressive episodes may last even longer, persisting approximately six months, but rarely longer than a year. Bipolar I sufferers may require hospitalization, either because a manic episode is out of control, or depression is so severe that risk of suicide is high. The presence of mixed episodes, which combine manic and depressive symptoms, may further heighten the suicide risk. Bipolar II Disorder is considered a milder form of Bipolar Disorder, and is the most common. Bipolar II Disorder sufferers typically experience less intense "hypomanic" episodes of euphoric or irritable mood, followed by depressive episodes, which are often experienced with greater intensity. Hypomania may appear as simply an "outgoing personality" in some, making diagnosis difficult, while others may experience it as a negative state that causes severe agitation and difficulties concentrating. Without treatment, hypomanic episodes MAY escalate to full mania. Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder is characterized by alternating episodes of mania and depression with distinct intervals between manic and depressed states. The periods of depression tend to be predominant, interspersed with briefer periods of abnormally elevated "manic" or "hypomanic" mood instability. Studies suggest 10 to 20% of people with Bipolar Disorder develop the rapid cycling pattern, typically later in the illness. While virtually anyone can develop Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder, it occurs more frequently in women than men. With Mixed Bipolar Disorder the highs and lows of the illness typically occur simultaneously in rapid succession, as either: DYSPHORIC MANIA, a manic episode with unpleasant or depressed mood; or AGITATED DEPRESSION, a depressive episode with mania symptoms, such as anger and irritability. Hospitalization may occur for mixed episodes as they may be accompanied by psychotic symptoms including hallucinations or delusional behavior. It's estimated that 20 to 70% of Bipolar Disorder sufferers experience mixed episodes, particularly when the illness begins during adolescence. Cyclothymia is a milder form of Bipolar Disorder with highs and lows characterized by hypomania and mild to-moderate depression. Those with cyclothymia typically stay connected to reality. If you think you may have a type of Bipolar Disorder, consult a mental health professional.
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012