The Basics Of Bipolar Disorder

Formerly referred to as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by sometimes drastic mood swings between depression and mania. Sometimes the swings can be rather quick or rapid cycling, but usually they happen more gradually. An estimated 6 million people suffer from some form of bipolar disorder in the US. It can happen to both men and women equally with most cases starting in people between the ages of 15 to 25. Those with a family history of bipolar disorder are at a higher risk of developing the illness.

There are different forms of the disorder from mild to extreme with both the depression phase and the manic phase carrying their own set of distinct symptoms. Understanding the illness can help sufferers and their families cope with and treat the symptoms effectively to live more normal lives. There is no known cure for bipolar disorder so treatment and medications are likely to be a lifelong endeavour.

Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is classified into different types based on the symptoms experienced by the patient as well as their intensity and duration.

Cyclothymia – this is a milder form of bipolar disorder where the mood swings involved are less drastic. The depression is not that severe and the mania is not as elevated. Swings in mood switch from mild depression to low levels of mania. It is not uncommon for sufferers of cyclothymia to be misdiagnosed as having a general depressive disorder since their symptoms aren’t as stark as the other types of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder Type II – A person suffering from bipolar II disorder has mood swings from low to high and back again only the manic phase does not reach full blown mania. The highs do not reach the extreme level of someone suffering from bipolar I disorder. To be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, the patient must have had at least one hypomanic episode in their lifetime. As with cyclothymia it is easy for bipolar II disorder sufferers to be misdiagnosed as having a general form of clinical depression.

The changes in mood can last for days, weeks or even longer. Periods of showing none of the symptoms of the disorder last for similar lengths as well.

Bipolar Disorder Type I – Similar to type II except someone suffering from bipolar I disorder has had at least one full blown manic episode in their life as well as episodes of major depression. Mania levels reach the extreme and can last from a few days up to a few years. Depressive episodes also present themselves and share the same symptoms as general clinical depression.

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

Since the disorder consists of two different phases, there are two sets of symptoms for both the depression phase as well as the manic phase. Some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder may include the following:

Depression – the depressive phase may include some of the normal signs of depression.

  • deep sadness that may be coupled with anxiety or distemper
  • loss of interest in activities
  • fatigue
  • sleep disruption, loss of sleep or sleeping too much
  • change in appetite resulting in sudden weight loss or weigh gain
  • inability to concentrate or think clearly
  • withdrawal from family and friends, isolation
  • feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and guilt
  • suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide

Suicide is a serious risk for sufferers of bipolar disorder. Any thoughts or words pertaining to suicide should not be ignored and immediate professional help should be sought after.

Mania – the following manic symptoms can occur for a few days, weeks or even months if left untreated.

  • Excessive energy (hypoactivity)
  • overly happy, excited or hopeful
  • inflated sense of self
  • trouble sleeping or seemingly having no need for sleep
  • busy mind, fast thoughts
  • excessive talking or fast talking
  • easily agitated
  • little to no control of temper
  • Reckless or risky behavior, binging, promiscuous sex
  • poor judgment

Manic symptoms are similar for both type I and type II with only a difference in the level of intensity of the symptoms. Bipolar I disorder has the highest most extreme levels of mania, where as bipolar II disorder patients show milder levels.

Treatment Options

There is currently no cure for this disorder and those afflicted with bipolar disorder will have to deal with it for their entire lives. If a patient is in the process of a severe manic or depressive episode they may be hospitalized until their mood stabilizes before treatment can begin.The main goals of treatment are to stabilize patients’ moods, trying to avoid the mood swings associated with the disorder, or at least making the swings less frequent or less extreme, as well as enabling the patient to function better in their every day lives.

Several medications can be used to treat the different aspects of bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizers are often prescribed first. These may include medications such as Lithium, Valproate, Lamotrigine, Depakote, Topiramate, Neurontin and Carbamazepine to name a few. Most of this are anti-seizure that also work to stabilize moods. Some antipsychotic medications approved for the treatment of bipolar disorder to treat psychotic symptoms sometimes associated with a manic or depressive episode also work to stabilize moods.

Lithium is one of the most popular medications to control the symptoms of mania and it has quite a long history of use and track record dating back to the 1970’s. Patients may be prescribed a single medication or a combination of mood stabilizers to control manic symptoms.

Anti-depressants may also be used in conjunction with mood stabilizers to treat bipolar depression symptoms. Because anti-depressants may promote a manic episode in bipolar disorder patients, they are almost always used in combination with mood stabilizers. Some of the medications used to fight depression may include Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac and Wellbutrin for example.

Side effects are always a risk with any medication. Patients should give a complete medical history to their doctors before starting on any type of medication regimen. During the regimen the patient should take note of any unusual symptoms or side effect and inform their treating physician.

Along with taking medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy) may also be prescribed. This can help learn how to deal with the disorder and provide help and support through any rough patches they may encounter.

Since there is no cure for bipolar disorder, sufferers will likely have to have some form of treatment for their entire lives. It is important for patients to keep taking their medications even if they are feeling fine.

If you suspect that you or a loved one might be suffering from bipolar disorder it is important to seek out professional help. While it cannot be cured, there are effective treatments that can enable patients to lead productive lives.

Popular Alternative Depression Remedies That May Work For You

A lot of patients simply cannot afford modern medications and doctors visits, or their current treatment may just not be working as they had hoped. For those that wish to try other methods to treat their depression they might be able to find some relief in alternative or natural remedies.

While some of these therapies have been used for years, scientific research on their efficacy for treating depression and other illnesses is still lacking. It is very important that before starting on any type of non-medical treatment for any illness or condition that you keep a few things in mind.

Always consult with a doctor before starting any other type of treatment. This is especially vital if you are currently taking any medications. Some herbs may have negative interactions with other drugs or interfere with the effectiveness of medications being taken. They may also have side effects that may worsen certain health conditions. Speak to your doctor about any plans or wishes to try natural remedies and make sure it is safe to do so.

If currently on antidepressants it is crucial to not stop taking them on your own just try another method. Reducing or stopping the taking of depression medications should only be done with the guidance and supervision of a psychiatrist or primary care physician.

Alternative depression remedies may be able to produce positive results for some people with more mild to moderate forms of depression. However, those suffering from serious major depression or psychosis may not see any results and seeking or staying with a trained psychiatrist or mental health professional is advised.

It is better to be safe than sorry and it helps to talk with a doctor beforehand for a little peace of mind. They might also have some experience with alternative depression remedies and might be able to offer some valuable advice or precautions.

Herbs & Supplements

St. John’s Wort: Probably the most popular herb used to treat mild depression or enhance mood. It is also effective against insomnia and anxiety related to depression. Two chemicals found in St. John’s Wort, hyperforin and hypericin, are believed to play a role on its ability to improve mood and lessen depression symptoms. There is some scientific evidence that validates its effectiveness against depression with more research ongoing.

Its use, however, does not come without some risks. It is not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women, Alzheimer’s patients, patients about to undergo anesthesia or surgery or those trying to conceive a child as it may pose infertility risks. Patients with mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression or ADHD should also avoid using the herb. St. John’s Wort also has adverse reactions or interactions with a host of medications. For this reason, anyone taking a prescription drug should consult with their physician before taking St. John’s Wort.

Omega-3 fatty acids: Japan has a 10 times lower depression rate than the US and studies have shown similar results in countries where a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids is prevalent. This type of fat, common in fish such as salmon and sardines, helps promote brain function. It is also used to promote heart and skin health as well. Increasing dietary intake of fish or taking omega-3 capsules can have tremendous health benefits.

SAM-e (S-Adenosyl Methionine): This is a synthetic form of a natural compound found in the body believed to raise the level of neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically serotonin and dopamine. It has been widely prescribed by doctors in Europe for a couple of decades for depression and joint aches and is one of the more expensive over the counter supplements that is available in the US. It has shown positive results in alleviating mild depression symptoms but it is not recommended for mood disorders where manic symptoms may be involved such as bipolar disorder.

Folic Acid and Vitamin B6 and B12: Low levels of folic acid and B12 have been linked to decreased effectiveness of antidepressant medications. Folic acid deficiency may result from a diet low in green and leafy vegetables, or as a result of taking certain medications such as birth control pills. Vitamin B6 plays a role in neurotransmitter production and a deficiency may also result from taking contraception pills or other drug therapies.

Magnesium: This also plays a role in neurotransmitter production and stress works to deplete the body of magnesium. It can be found in nuts, grains and vegetables as well as in supplement form.

Saffron: More research is needed on using saffron for depression but some individuals report positive results with dealing with depression symptoms.

Alternative Therapies

Various types of therapies including acupuncture, yoga and aromatherapy have been used for years, sometimes centuries, as a means of treating different ailments and promoting overall health. While more research is needed, many people swear by some of these methods and report many positive results.

Acupuncture: Dating all the way back to ancient China, acupuncture works on the theory of stimulating specific points in the body with tiny needles in the skin to restore the bodies natural energy balance. It has long been used to treat pain, nausea and infertility. Not enough research has been done to say without a doubt that acupuncture may help with depression but some studies have shown positive results in dealing with some of the symptoms of depression.

Aromatherapy: This type of treatment aims to enhance and improve one’s mood through the use of fragrance and fragrant oils. Scents such as jasmine, sandlewood, orange blossom, clary sage or basil may help relieve depression symptoms and anxiety. Those currently taking antidepressants may try aromatherapy since it will not interfere with depression medications.

Relaxation Methods: Methods such as yoga, meditation, message therapy and hypnosis have been used to alleviate depression by promoting relaxation and altered states of conciousness. Relaxing the body can help slow down the mind and ease stress.

A lot of individuals have experienced very positive results using a variety of these alternative depression remedies and treatments despite lack of scientific proof as to their effectiveness.

Diet and Exercise

Probably the simplest, and cheapest, things someone could do to improve their mood is to improve their diet and exercise routine. Those who are depressed generally do not eat properly or exercise enough.

Diet: Eating more fresh foods, in particular fruits and vegetables, can have tremendous benefits to a person’s overall health and feeling of well being. Reducing the amount of processed foods, high fat foods and lowering sugar and caffeine intake has been shown to help with depression and anxiety symptoms. More nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables can provide an immediate impact. Juicing is also a great alternative for those who do not particularly like eating salads or snacking on produce.

Exercise: Depressed patients often feel lethargic and lack energy, but increasing movement and physical activity can trigger the release of certain chemicals in the brain called endorphins which alleviate some of the feelings of stress and pain. Becoming physically healthier can carry over into becoming mentally healthier as well.

For those with more mild forms of depression there may be viable natural and less costly methods to fight some of their symptoms. As always, you should seek the advice of a medical doctor before starting on any plan or alternate form of treatment, especially if you are taking antidepressants or any other type of medication. Sometimes depression relief can found in the most unexpected places.