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January 5, 2012

Diagnosing and Treating Bipolar Disorder

Most people with bipolar disorder can successfully balance their moods with medication. But how do you know that it's bipolar disorder? Although bipolar disorder cannot yet be identified physiologically-for example, through a blood test or a brain scan - diagnosis of the disorder can be made on the basis of a person's symptoms, the course of the illness, and, when available, family history. When someone has Bipolar Disorder, they have dramatic swings from periods of frenetic activity, or "manic" moods, to hopeless "depressive" moods. The first step in diagnosing Bipolar disorder is identifying these two mood states. A manic episode is diagnosed if an elevated mood occurs with three or more other symptoms nearly every day for 1 week or longer, or if an extremely irritable mood occurs with four or more manic symptoms. Symptoms of mania include increased energy, restlessness or aggressive behavior, extreme irritability, racing thoughts, rapid speech, and jumping from one idea to another and loose sexual behavior. Other common symptoms of mania include a limited need for sleep, spending sprees, an unrealistic belief in one's abilities, poor judgment, drug abuse, and denial that anything is wrong. A depressive episode is diagnosed if five or more symptoms occur nearly every day for a period of 2 weeks or longer. Symptoms of Depression include a lasting sad mood, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or helplessness, and a decreased interest in pleasure. Other symptoms of depression can include decreased energy, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, irritability, sleep disturbance and a change in appetite or unintended weight changes. The most effective treatment for bipolar disorder is a combination of medication and therapy, administered continuously over time. Most patients-even those with severe forms-can achieve substantial stabilization of mood swings and related symptoms with proper treatment. Because bipolar disorder is a recurrent illness, long-term preventive treatment is strongly recommended. Medications prescribed for bipolar disorder are almost always mood-stabilizers like Lithium, the first mood-stabilizer approved by the FDA for treatment of mania. Doctors also prescribe a variety of anti-convulsant drugs like Depakote and Tegratol, which sometimes have mood-stabilizing effects. For maximum effect, Lithium is often combined with one of the anti-convulsants. Medication is key in the treatment of bipolar disorder, and can be further helped when used in conjunction with psycho-social treatments, leading to increased mood stability, fewer hospitalizations, and improved functioning in several areas. Bipolar disorder is a complex illness, and its treatment can be as well - for proper diagnosis and treatment, please see a mental health professional. Want to learn more? Check out other videos and sources on this site for more information.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012