What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Often called manic-depression, bipolar disorder is a serious, chronic illness
accompanied by disabling mood swings from high (manic) to low (depressed).
Estimates of how many Americans are affected range from three to seven million
Americans. Like many physical illnesses, bipolar disorder has a strong hereditary
component. In many families without a known history of bipolar disorder, a
history of suicide may be the tip-off clue that someone was misdiagnosed, or
kept their symptoms a secret. The death rate from suicide in bipolar disorder
is over 10%, or 40 times the expected death rate from suicide in the general
What distinguishes people with bipolar disorder from those with generalized
depression is the hallmark manic phase. This often starts with the person feeling
more energized, creative, productive as well as hypersexual. Shopping sprees
or other evidence of grandiosity or other extravagant excess-whether or not
the person has the means to afford it-is often another symptom. Many patients
with untreated manic-depression actually drink alcohol or take illicit drugs
in order to self-medicate or gain some sense of control. Estimates are that
more than 50% of bipolar individuals experience problems with alcohol or drugs.
Correct diagnosis is often difficult because those afflicted are often only
willing to seek medical attention when they're depressed; they don't want the
manic phase to be diminished. As a result, physicians usually only see the
depression. Studies indicate that patients often suffer for an average of eight
years with this condition before being correctly diagnosed. Often, this leads
to mismanagement with anti-depressant medications, which can often exacerbate
bipolar symptoms and cause it to cycle more and trigger manic episodes.
Once properly diagnosed, the standard medical treatment for this disorder is
mood stabilizers (e.g. Lithium; Depakote; or Lamictal) in combination with effective
For more information about depression or other mental health issues, click
Created: 9/16/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.