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Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, previously known by the term manic depression, is a medically diagnosed condition that affects moods in extreme ways. People with bipolar disorder often swing between periods of low mood or depression and mania - the feeling of being very high. Swings between moods often occur in a short space of time.

Biopolar Disorder: the facts

Bipolar disorder affects both genders and often starts between the ages of 15 and 25. The first stage of bipolar disorder is often depression. This can last for weeks or even years, and sufferers are often diagnosed with clinical depression before they've had a bipolar episode.

The symptoms associated with depression include feelings of extreme sadness, lack of energy, feelings of guilt, self doubt and pessimism, lack of appetite, reduced sex drive, sleeplessness, feelings of worthlessness, delusions and in extreme cases suicidal thoughts.

The symptoms associated with mania include feelings of intense euphoria and elation, rapid speech, increased levels of energy, being easily distracted, feeling full of self importance and overly ambitious plans, irritability, a lack of tiredness. Other symptoms include the desire to engage in extreme behaviours without thought for the consequences, such as spending large amounts of money on unaffordable items. During the manic stage those affected will often feel very positive and creative but may also experience episodes of psychosis where they hear and see things that do not exist.

Bipolar disorder affects around one person in every 100 and individual experiences vary widely in terms of the pattern of mood swings. Depending on the severity of the condition, some will experience frequent episodes of depression and mania; others will only have a handful of bipolar episodes throughout their lifetime.

Causes and treatment

Medical research has not uncovered an exact cause of bipolar disorder - it is believed to be the result of a complex cocktail of environmental, physical and social influences. These include factors such as chemical imbalances in the brain and genetics, which are triggered by stressful circumstances such as abuse, grief or the breakdown of a relationship.

A number of different treatments can be used to combat bipolar disorder. These include medication and anti-depressants, hospitalisation and psychological treatments such as therapy. A good diet and exercise are also thought to help in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

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