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Bipolar Disorder (Mania) FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:What is another term that has been previously used for bipolar disorder?

A:Manic depression. Bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression, is a mental illness that is characterized by severe mood swings, repeated episodes of depression, and at least one episode of mania.

In the U.S., bipolar disorder affects about 4 million people.

Note: Genetically, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have much in common, in that the two disorders share a number of the same risk genes. However, both illnesses also have some genetic factors that are unique.

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Q:What type of disorder is bipolar disorder?

A:Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder.

People who have bipolar disorder are at a higher risk of also suffering from substance abuse and other mental health problems.

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Q:Medically speaking, mania is defined as what?

A:Medically speaking, mania is defined as an abnormally elevated mood state.

This state is also characterized by such symptoms as inappropriate elation, increased irritability, severe insomnia, grandiose notions, increased speed and/or volume of speech, disconnected and racing thoughts, increased sexual desire, markedly increased energy and activity level, poor judgment, and inappropriate social behavior.

Note: Mania is the Greek word for madness.

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Q:Bipolar disorder is hereditary. True or False?

A:False.

One frequently asked question about bipolar disorder is if it is hereditary. As with most other mental disorders, bipolar disorder is not directly passed from one generation to another genetically. Rather, it is the result of a complex group of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.

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Q:Bipolar disorder includes manic episodes followed by what?

A:Depressive episodes. Manic episodes frequently alternate with depressive episodes. In fact, depression occurs more often than mania in many people with bipolar disorder. Sometimes they feel very happy and "up," and are much more active than usual. This is called mania.

Other times, people with bipolar disorder feel very sad or "down." This is called depression. Bipolar disorder can also cause marked changes in energy and behavior.

Characteristics of depressive episodes include a number of the following symptoms: persistently depressed or irritable mood; decreased interest in previously pleasurable activities; change or problems in appetite, weight, or sleep; agitation or lack of activity; fatigue; feelings of worthlessness; trouble concentrating; thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts, plans or actions.

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Q:At what age is bipolar disorder usually diagnosed?

A:Bipolar disorder usually appears between ages 15 and 24 and persists throughout a lifetime.

It is rare that newly diagnosed mania is seen in young children or in adults over age 65.

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Q:Can bipolar disorder be diagnosed by a routine laboratory test such as a blood test?

A:No. As with most mood disorders, there is no laboratory test or X-ray to diagnose bipolar disorder. After performing a physical exam, doctors evaluate signs and symptoms. A doctor will also ask patients about their personal medical history and family history. Lab tests may be done to rule out other serious illnesses that can affect mood.

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Q:What is the cure for bipolar disorder?

A:There is no cure for bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness and there is no cure, but a wide variety of treatment options are available. Proper treatment helps most people with bipolar disorder gain better control of their mood swings and related symptoms. It is important to understand that people with the disorder need long-term treatment to keep control of bipolar symptoms. Treatment for bipolar disorder includes medication and psychotherapy.

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Q:Treatment for bipolar disorder can include what?

A:Antiseizure medications (anticonvulsants). Treatment for bipolar disorder may include the use of mood stabilizers such as lithium. Anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, and benzodiazepines (drugs that act as tranquilizers) are other classes of drugs that can also be used to stabilize mood. Sometimes antidepressants are given in combination with mood stabilizers to boost the depressed mood. In addition, stimulants may be used to step up or boost the antidepressant drug action.

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Q:Bipolar disorder can be fatal. True or False?

A:True. Bipolar disorder can cause behavior so extreme that some people cannot function at work, in family or social situations, or in relationships with others. It is the fifth leading cause of disability worldwide.

Bipolar disorder is the ninth leading cause of years lost to death or disability worldwide. With that in mind, it is important to note that there is a high risk of suicide in people with bipolar disorder. The number of individuals with bipolar disorder who commit suicide is 60 times higher than that of the general population.

On the bright side, bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

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