Bipolar Disorder

Additional Information

Bipolar Disorder (also called manic-depressive disorder) is a medical condition that causes a person to have extreme mood changes that alternate between depression and mania. A person may return to a normal mood between these extremes. However, a depressive or manic episode can appear suddenly without an obvious trigger or slowly over months.

Mood changes of bipolar disorder can be mild or extreme and develop gradually (over a period of days to weeks) or rapidly (within minutes or hours). The mood episodes can last from hours to months. However, if your mood changes are very mild, it is possible you may not have bipolar disorder but a condition called cyclothymic disorder.

Early in the progression of the disorder, stress may trigger episodes of depression and mania. However, as the illness progresses, mood changes are not necessarily related to a specific stressful event.

Bipolar disorder occurs equally among males and females.

Approximately 4 million Americans will suffer from bipolar disorder in their lifetimes. The onset of bipolar disorder often occurs between the ages of 15 and 19, although diagnosis and treatment may not begin until several years later.

Men tend to suffer from more manic episodes, while women tend to suffer from more depressive episodes.

The cause of bipolar disorder is not well understood.

Evidence suggests there is a genetic risk factor in the development of bipolar disorder. It is also possible that episodes of depression and mania may be caused by a problem with brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

There is some evidence that bipolar disorder in older adults may be linked to a medical disorder (such as problems with the endocrine system) or a neurological disorder (such as poor blood flow to the brain). Research efforts are continuing in order to find the cause and, ultimately, a cure for bipolar disorder.

Certain childhood attention disorders mimic symptoms of bipolar disorder Research is ongoing to determine whether a connection between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and bipolar disorder exists. While symptoms can be similar, ADHD is a separate disorder that is very different from bipolar disorder and has different treatment. Most cases of ADHD are not related to bipolar disorder.