Signs & Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Oasis Behavioral Health Hospital helps individuals struggling with bipolar disorder build a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Serving the Chandler community, Oasis is the premier provider of mental health disorder treatment for adolescents and adults.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a severe mental illness that affects millions of people throughout the world. It is an illness that causes those suffering from it to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, with dramatic moods fluctuating back and forth and no sense of warning. The effects of bipolar disorder impact one’s energy, one’s thought processes, and one’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis. The symptoms of this illness can have negative effects on not only the people struggling with disorder, but on the lives of those around them as well.

Bipolar disorder presents itself in a variety of forms and in various stages of severity. A diagnosis of bipolar disorder is broken down into one of three forms, as described in the following:

Bipolar I is the form of bipolar disorder that is considered to be the most severe. People suffering from bipolar I experience extreme and intense periods of both mania and depression. Some people will experience one more than the other, some will experience consistent cycling between the two, and some will experience a mixed state where both manic and depressive symptoms occur simultaneously.

Bipolar II occurs when people experience chronic, extreme episodes of depression yet have had at least one hypomanic episode. Hypomanic episodes are a less severe form of manic episodes and do not typically cause functional impairment.

Cyclothymic disorder is characterized by patterns of mood disturbances that include alternating periods of mild or moderate depression and hypomania. When people have cyclothymic disorder, their depressive and hypomanic symptoms are less severe and occur less often than do the episodes of those suffering from bipolar I and bipolar II.

Statistics

Bipolar disorder statistics

It is estimated that 5.7 million adults over the age of 18 in the United States have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is the equivalent of 2.6% of the population. While the average age that people typically experience the onset of bipolar disorder is said to be 25, people of all ages can be affected by the illness. The National Institute of Mental Health states that between 0-3% of children and adolescents suffer from bipolar disorder. That being said, the actual prevalence of these statistics is still debated amongst professionals in the field because, while it has become more accepted, there are still questions regarding the boundaries for diagnosing a child with bipolar disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

Studies have not been able to identify any one, distinct cause that leads to person to develop bipolar disorder, but rather it is believed to be a combination of factors working together. These factors include:

Genetic: Bipolar disorder tends to run in families as it has been known to develop in people who have a blood relative who also suffers from the disorder. It has been estimated that children are 15-25% more likely to have bipolar disorder if they have one parent who also suffers from the illness.

Physical: Studies have shown that bipolar disorder results in part from a chemical imbalance in the brain and from significant fluctuations in a person’s hormones.

Environmental: Although part of an ongoing debate, some professionals in the field believe that environmental factors have the potential to play a role in the development of bipolar disorder, despite a lack of genetic influences. Things such as experiencing a significant trauma or chronic substance abuse are examples of environmental factors that are thought to potentially lead to the onset of bipolar disorder.

Risk factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Substance abuse
  • Major life changes
  • Major life stressors

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

The signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary greatly from person to person. Whether someone is experiencing a manic episode, a depressive episode, or a mixed episode will influence the type and severity of the symptoms exhibited. While some may be the same, many signs of the disorder will also present differently in children and adolescents than they do in adults. The following are examples of various symptoms that a person suffering from bipolar disorder may display:

Behavioral symptoms in children and adolescents:

  • Explosive temper tantrums
  • Lying
  • Acting impulsively
  • Talking fast / jumping from topic to topic
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Self-harm

Behavioral symptoms in adults:

  • Hypersexuality
  • Abusing substances
  • Participating in high risk / reckless behaviors
  • Acting in a grandiose manner
  • Rapid speech
  • Seclusion

Physical symptoms in children and adolescents:

  • High arousal states
  • Motor or vocal tics
  • Sleeping excessively or not sleeping at all
  • Vivid nightmares
  • Bedwetting

Physical symptoms in adults:

  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Going days without sleeping (when experiencing a manic episode) or sleeping excessively (when experiencing a depressive episode)
  • Extreme fluctuations in bodily temperature

Cognitive symptoms in children and adolescents:

  • Experiencing visual and/or auditory hallucinations
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor working memory
  • Separation anxiety

Cognitive symptoms in adults:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Experiencing hallucinations or delusions

Psychosocial symptoms in children and adolescents:

  • Extreme irritability
  • Being easily humiliated or shamed
  • Prolonged periods of emotional excitability
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling elated (most commonly demonstrated by episodes of silliness, giddiness, or goofing off behaviors)

Psychosocial symptoms in adults:

  • Excessive irritability
  • Low self-esteem or inflated self-esteem (depending on the presence of depression or mania)
  • Feeling overly happy
  • Feeling overly worried
  • Losing interest in things that were once pleasurable to the individual
  • Feelings of worthless or feelings of grandiosity and invincibility (depending on whether one is depressed or manic)

Effects

Effects of bipolar disorder

There is no cure for bipolar disorder. It is a chronic illness that will continuously affect those inflicted by it throughout their lifetimes. However, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be successfully managed through proper treatment and the implementation of certain psychotropic medications. But if left untreated, the effects can be detrimental and may include the following:

  • Academic or occupational failure
  • Criminal involvement, including incarceration
  • Failure to successfully develop and maintain healthy, lasting relationships
  • Ongoing self-injury
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

It is not uncommon for people suffering from bipolar disorder to also be suffering from another mental illness as well. The symptoms will sometimes overlap or they may conflict with each other, causing further distress and disruption in the lives of those individuals. Some examples of disorders that are known to occur alongside bipolar disorder include:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Panic disorders
  • Specific phobias (e.g. social phobia)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (in children)
  • Conduct disorder (in adolescents)
  • Substance abuse disorders

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