Bipolar Causes, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

No one experiences bipolar disorder the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of bipolar disorder is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme changes in mood ranging from depression to mania. In addition to mood swings, there are also unusual shifts in energy levels, activity levels, and ability to carry out tasks. Individuals with this disorder experience intense emotional states that are beyond the normal ups and downs of everyday life. An individual who is depressed may feel worthless and not be able to think, while a person who is manic may recklessly spend money or quit their job. The severity of the mood swings experienced by individuals with this disorder is so intense that it interferes with their ability to function. However, with proper treatment people suffering from Bipolar disorder can lead fully productive, happy lives.

This disorder is characterized into two different types, Bipolar I disorder and Bipolar II disorder and one related disorder, cyclothymia. Individuals suffering from Bipolar I disorder experience episodes of mania in which there are an abnormally elevated and persistent mood and activity level. Mania mood symptoms of euphoria or excessive cheerfulness occur for most of the day for at least seven days. Bipolar II disorder is characterized by a pattern of depressive episodes that shift back and forth with hypomanic episodes. Hypomania is a milder form of mania lasting at least four consecutive days. The mood swings associated with both of these disorders usually occur in cycles with periods where the individual is able to function normally.

Finally, cyclothymia is a disorder in which an individual has a chronic fluctuation in mood that involves hypomanic and depression symptoms that are separate from one another. This disorder is similar to bipolar disorder, however, the hypomanic symptoms are never severe enough to be classified as a hypomanic episode and the depression symptoms don’t meet the full criteria for a major depressive episode. In order to be diagnosed with cyclothymia, an individual has to of experienced symptoms of hypomania and depression for a period of at least two years. During the two-year period symptoms must occur more days than not and there can’t be a symptom-free period lasting longer than two months.


Bipolar disorder statistics

In the United States, it is estimated that the prevalence rate for individuals suffering from Bipolar I disorder is about 0.6%. Both genders have about the same prevalence rate with a male-to-female ratio of approximately 1.1:1. The mean age of onset for the first manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode is around 18 years of age for Bipolar I disorder. Bipolar II disorder has a prevalence rate of 0.8% in this United States. Bipolar II disorder can occur in late adolescents, but the most common age of onset is the mid-20s.

The cyclothymic disorder has a prevalence rate of 0.4%-1% for the general population and a prevalence rate of 3% to 5% in mood disorder clinics. This disorder is equally common among male and females, however, more females present for treatment. The cyclothymic disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

The causes of these three disorders are not completely understood, but research has suggested a few theories of possible causes.

Genetics: Research suggests that inherited traits may cause bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is more common in individuals who have family members, especially parents or siblings that suffer from the same disorder.

Hormones: Another theory suggests hormones as a cause for bipolar disorder. Research has shown that individuals with bipolar disorder have imbalanced hormones which could play a role in causing and triggering this disorder.

Neurotransmitters: A third theory suggests that neurotransmitters in the brain may cause this disorder. It is believed that when these naturally occurring brain chemicals are not balanced that it can lead to bipolar disorder.

Biological: Finally, it has been hypothesized that physical changes in the brain can cause bipolar disorder. Research has shown that individuals with bipolar disorder seem to have physical changes in their brains, for example, a smaller prefrontal cortex, which may cause this disorder.

While the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown research has suggested that it is likely a combination of many different factors that plays a role in the development of this disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

Individuals who suffer from one of these disorders can experience a variety of symptoms. The signs and symptoms can vary depending on the type of Bipolar disorder an individual has. Some of the symptoms that may be present during manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes include:

Manic episode symptoms (lasting at least a week)

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • More talkative than usual
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Rapid speech
  • Risky behavior
  • Easily distracted
  • Agitation or irritation

Hypomanic episode symptoms (milder level of mania, lasting at least 4 consecutive days)

  • Euphoria
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • More talkative than usual
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Rapid speech
  • Risky behavior
  • Easily distracted
  • Agitation or irritation

Major depression episode symptoms

  • Diminished interest in activities
  • Sadness and hopelessness
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Significant weight loss

Bipolar I disorder is defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days. A depressive episode usually occurs as well typically lasting for about two weeks. However, it is not necessary to have a depressive episode to be diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder. On the other hand, Bipolar II disorder is defined as a pattern of both depressive and hypomanic episodes, without full blow manic or mixed episodes. Finally, cyclothymic disorder is defined by hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are never severe enough to be classified as full blown episodes.


Effects of bipolar disorder

Bipolar I disorder, Bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder can cause significant distress and impairment in an individual’s life. Some effects caused by these disorders are:

  • Cognitive impairments
  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Relationship problems
  • Problems at work or school
  • Legal problems
  • Financial problems
  • Depression
  • Suicide

These disorders are serious and disruptive mental illnesses. However, with the proper treatment plan you can control the disorder and keep your moods in check.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Co-occurring mental disorders are common among individuals with the bipolar and cyclothymic disorder. The most common co-occurring disorders are:

  • Anxiety disorders (panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobia).
  • ADHD
  • Disruptive, impulse control, or conduct disorders (intermittent explosive disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder)
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders