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Exploring Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder involves a condition that occurs in the brain causing a person to have extreme moods and behaviors. For some people, bipolar disorder can even cause impairment in the way they function. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 82.9% of adults with bipolar in the U.S. experience serious cognitive impairment—meaning they have trouble concentrating and making decisions (it can also disrupt memory and the way they function overall). 

There are four types of bipolar disorder—bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder, and “unspecified,” (which we will explore further)—all of which affect individuals in different ways. Left untreated, bipolar disorder typically worsens, in some cases, leading to devastating consequences (for both the person affected and their loved ones). 

One major area of concern in relation to bipolar disorder is suicide. Recent research revealed that an estimated 20% of people with bipolar disorder (mostly untreated) end their life by suicide, and between 20% to 60% attempt suicide at least once during their lifetime. 

As grim as these statistics are, there are many people diagnosed with bipolar disorder that, when treated, go on to live enjoyable, productive, and successful lives. It’s important to understand that if you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder—you are not alone! 

At Futures of Recovery Healthcare, we provide comprehensive, personalized treatment for bipolar disorder. We have a team of compassionate, licensed care providers—doctors, psychotherapists, case managers, wellness professionals, nurses—who specialize in helping people with mental illness reduce and manage their symptoms. Our ultimate goal is to help encourage a vibrant and fulfilling life moving forward. 

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

While there is no “one-single cause” of bipolar disorder, there are several contributing factors, which include:

Brain Size and Function

Although subtle, researchers have discovered differences in the average size and function of certain brain structures of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Genetics

If you have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder, your chances of developing the condition increase. With that said, this is in no way a “rule.” Individuals may have a family history of the disorder without ever having developed it. 

Stress and Trauma

A traumatic or stressful event or situation—perhaps a death in the family, illness, divorce, financial difficulty—may trigger bipolar disorder. 

Studies have also helped experts recognize that the average onset of bipolar disorder occurs around age 25, although it can also develop during the teen years (it’s uncommon to be identified during childhood). It also affects genders equally, with 2.8% of the total population diagnosed with the condition (in the U.S.)

Four Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

As we previously mentioned, there are four different types of bipolar disorder. 

1. Bipolar I Disorder
Individuals with bipolar I typically have episodes of mania and depression, both of which are described below. Licensed clinicians help identify bipolar I when a person has manic episodes lasting a minimum of seven days. Or, have mania that requires hospitalization. 

2. Bipolar II Disorder
Unlike the manic episodes that individuals have with bipolar I, individuals with bipolar II experience depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes (also explained below). 

3. Cyclothymic Disorder (or Cyclothymia) 
This type of bipolar disorder describes when a person experiences hypomania and mild depression for a minimum of two years, and one year for children and adolescents. While some people with cyclothymia may express stable moods for periods of time, they usually last fewer than eight weeks at a time. 

4. Unspecified Bipolar Disorder 
Also referred to as “other specified,” a person who exhibits symptoms of bipolar (abnormal moods), but does not strictly match the three previously mentioned types of the condition may be diagnosed as unspecified bipolar disorder. 

Mania, Hypomania, and Major Depressive Episodes

People with bipolar disorder have what are called “mood episodes.” These can include manic, hypomanic, and depressive “episodes” characterized by intense emotions and behaviors. 

When an individual experiences a manic episode, it can last anywhere from a week to several months. The longer bipolar is untreated, the longer mania can last

Symptoms of a manic episode can include:

  • Feeling extreme elation (highs), and/or irritability
  • Increasing jumpiness or alertness
  • Demonstrating heightened self-esteem/ego and feeling “powerful”
  • Talking rapidly and often more loudy (than usual)
  • Appearing to not need sleep
  • Showing distracted and scattered behavior
  • Committing to more activities than can be accomplished
  • Having racing thoughts
  • Demonstrating risky and reckless behaviors 

Manic episodes can range from moderate to severe. They often cause disruption and dysfunction in the family, work, and social situations, and may even require hospitalization. 

Hypomanic episodes describe fluctuations in mood and behavior but are usually not as extreme as manic episodes. And, typically, hypomanic episodes last around four days, versus weeks or months. People are often able to continue to function normally and don’t have the negative consequences associated with mania. 

Unlike manic or hypomanic episodes, major depressive episodes generally last around two weeks and cause a person to feel more “down” and “fatigued” versus elated and frenzied.

Symptoms of major depressive episodes can include:

  • Increasing and intense sadness, worry, and hopelessness
  • Feelings of being “down” and “slow”
  • Having difficulty sleeping 
  • Gaining weight and having increased appetite
  • Demonstrating forgetfulness and lack of enthusiasm
  • Speaking slowly, not appearing to have much to say
  • Struggling to concentrate, perform simple activities, make decisions
  • Losing sexual desire
  • Avoiding or discontinuing enjoyable activities
  • Exhibiting suicidal ideation*

*Again, because people with bipolar disorder have a higher incidence of suicide, it’s vital to seek professional help immediately if you or someone you love has suicidal thoughts or behavior—not appearing to care about themselves or their appearance, talking more about death and dying, isolating, and giving away important/sentimental items and possessions. 

It is possible for people to have manic and depressive episodes at the same time. This is referred to as an “episode with mixed features.” No matter what type of bipolar disorder a person has, or what type of mood episodes they exhibit, seeking diagnosis and treatment earlier than later will help prevent the condition and/or consequences from occurring or worsening. 

Bipolar Treatment 

Because bipolar disorder symptoms can mimic other illnesses, it’s important to be seen by a professional, experienced mental health care provider to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment. It’s also not uncommon for individuals with bipolar disorder to also have an anxiety disorder, an eating disorder, or substance abuse order. 

Depending on the type of bipolar disorder and any co-occurring disorders will determine the type of treatment a person receives. There are several different treatment approaches available which include:

1. Psychotherapy
A licensed psychotherapist helps treat a person diagnosed with bipolar disorder by assisting them in exploring their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, uses an approach that challenges negative thought patterns by providing healthy alternative solutions. In addition to CBT, a psychotherapist may also utilize interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), which focuses on treatment involving a person’s biological and social rhythms.  

2. Medications 
There are several medications used to address bipolar disorder. These can include mood stabilizers and what is referred to as “atypical” second-generation antipsychotics. Depending on the diagnosis, and whether a patient has a co-occurring disorder, may also involve administering antidepressants, as well as medications that help with sleep and/or anxiety.  

3. Additional Therapies
In some cases, other treatment options such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a type of brain stimulation approach, or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may be utilized to address bipolar disorder. Additionally, certain supplements, routine and consistent exercise, and keeping a “mood chart,” have been helpful approaches to help individuals manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. 

Success of Treatment for Bipolar

If you or someone you love has been experiencing manic, hypomanic, or depressive, or major depressive episodes, you are not alone. As we mentioned earlier, millions of people live with bipolar disorder. 

And, although bipolar disorder is a serious and lifelong condition, many people are able to successfully treat their symptoms and enjoy a healthy and satisfying life. At Futures, we provide comprehensive, compassionate care for a wide range of mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Help for bipolar disorder can start today. Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098. 

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