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Important to get right diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

Apr. 05, 2013 @ 01:00 PM

"Bipolar Disorder" or "Bipolar Affective Disorder" -- which used to be known as "manic-depressive disorder" -- is a specific type of "mood disorder" or emotional disorder. It's named after the cycles of hyperactivity or "mania" followed by spiraling down into a severe depression. The cycles of mania and depression are experienced over and over.

Untreated, bipolar disorder creates changes in mood, activity and ability to take care of normal daily responsibilities. Bipolar disorder is not the usual ups and downs of everyday life; instead, there are distinct and separate extreme emotional states or mood states that characterize bipolar disorder.

People with bipolar disorder experience extreme and intense emotional states that might take years to piece together and correctly diagnose and treat because it can seem like there are two separate problems that need to be treated. Once it is diagnosed, bipolar disorder is easily treated with therapy or counseling and medication. Bipolar disorder can damage relationships, school performance or employment and may even result in suicide. With treatment, bipolar disorder can be stabilized and people can go on to lead productive, healthy lives.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder are different for each of two emotional states. In the depressed mood state, people are more likely to reach out for help as they experience more distress and discomfort. In the depressed state, there could be a long period of feeling empty, worried, a loss of interest in usual activities, feeling tired or slowed down, problems concentrating, remembering or making decisions, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and restlessness or irritability. There might be thoughts, plans and, at its worst, attempts at suicide. Getting professional help for a bipolar disorder is essential to preventing suicide.

In the manic mood state, there is a feeling of happiness, elation, well-being or being "high." In some people the manic state is characterized by extreme irritability and agitation. The person might talk fast, jump from topic to topic, be easily distracted, sleep less or almost none at all, increase activities, have an inflated unrealistic idea of their own abilities and behave impulsively. Some go on spending sprees and engage in high-risk behaviors like impulsive gambling and high-risk business decisions.

Some people experience symptoms of bipolar disorder in childhood. Others are diagnosed as adults and some are diagnosed later in life. According to the National Institute on Mental Health, about half are diagnosed before they turn 25 years old (see www.nimh.nih.gov).

A lot is not really known about why some people develop bipolar disorders. There seems to be no single cause, but it does seem to run in families. Researchers are looking for genetic markers that would predispose a person to develop bipolar symptoms. They are also looking for other possible explanations including stress, coping skills and environment. Genetically identical twins will not always both develop bipolar disorder, suggesting it might be more than a genetic problem.

Some of the characteristics people with bipolar disorders have in common include missing work because of their illness, other illnesses at the same time (including panic disorder, substance abuse disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder) and a history of psychiatric hospitalizations, among others (see www.nimh.nih.gov).

Bipolar disorder is a complicated illness on a continuum of severity of symptoms and there are several sub-types. Like diabetes, bipolar disorder is a serious problem that has to be managed for life. Long-term treatment is necessary to maintain control of bipolar symptoms. Medication and therapy give relief from severe symptoms. There is no cure for bipolar disorder. Treatment can help people get better control of their mood swings.

Bipolar disorder cannot be detected through a blood test or an MRI or a brain scan. A doctor or counselor can interview, collect information and arrive at a diagnosis or impression of a diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is diagnosed by an MD (doctor of medicine) who can also prescribe medications that stabilize mood and minimize the cycling of periods of depression and periods of mania. Sometimes different kinds of medications have to be tried to see which will work best.

People with bipolar disorder can be resistant to staying on medications over time. Once they begin feeling better and their moods stabilize, they often believe they no longer have the condition and no longer need their medications so they stop taking them. Without the support of medications controlling mood swings, the symptoms of bipolar disorder return and worsen to the point where it is once again out of control. Once out of control, it can take weeks of taking medication every day to begin to feel better and stabilize mood swings.

When symptoms of bipolar disorder interfere with everyday life, professional counseling will be a big help. In addition to counseling, it may also be helpful to have a psychiatrist prescribe a mood stabilizing medication. Many new generation mood stabilizers are safe, effective and not habit forming.

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective professional mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane. Offices in Winfield are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex (304-586-0670). Offices in Hurricane are called "Hopewell" and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road (304-757-8475). The Hopewell offices specialize in serving adults with insurance in need of addiction treatment and mental health problems like grief, depression and anxiety or more severe mental health problems. Both offices are accepting new clients and scheduling appointments. Walk-ins are also welcome Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the Winfield location.

Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.