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Bipolar Disease
Aug 18th, 2012 Headlines

Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson is in Minnesota being treated for manic depression. It’s another reminder of an illness that affects nearly 6 million Americans.

Bipolar and Manic Depression, rx which are used interchangeably, are conditions that cause mood swings that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania.  Some develop mood swings on a daily basis, while it may only occur a few times a year for others.

Congressman Jackson has bipolar two.  Some reports have called it a “milder” form of bipolar, but that is an oversimplification. In general, people with bipolar I can experience full-blown mania or severe elevated mood that can interfere with a person’s ability to function.  People with bipolar II tend to have a milder form of mania, which can make it more difficult to diagnose.   Their depressive episodes, however, can last longer and be more severe than those with Bipolar I.

Someone who is manic often feels incredibly happy- almost to the point where they feel like they have special powers- and have an inflated ego or opinion of themselves.  They’re not always fun to be around because they can get angry and irritable.  People who are manic may also be reckless and make irrational decisions, which can get them into legal/financial trouble, or strain interpersonal relationships.  Besides a noticeably elevated mood and reckless behavior, people who are manic tend to have little need for sleep.

Not only does a person with depression feel sad, but they can have little or no interest in activities they have previously enjoyed, changes in appetite (eating too much or too little), problems with sleep (either sleeping too much or too little), poor concentration, and the inability to make decisions.

About 2.5% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of bipolar disorder – which again, affects nearly 6 million people. It affects men, women, and people of all races and socioeconomic groups equally.  The symptoms usually appear in adolescence of early adulthood.

It is unclear as to what causes the illness.  It’s thought to be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.  Though it’s often not clear what may trigger a depressive or manic episode, some known triggers include lack of sleep, medications, or recreational drug use. People who are bipolar may be more likely to use recreational drugs.

Unfortunately, it is a chronic disorder that requires lifelong treatment, which usually includes mood stabilizing medications, as well as anticonvulsants or anti-anxiety drugs sometimes.  In addition, psychotherapy or counseling plays a big role.  Some patients don’t respond well to medications and may need electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also known as shock therapy. Patients can even become suicidal or a danger to themselves, and need to be hospitalized.

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