Bipolar Disorder involves a chemical imbalance in the brain which causes extreme mood swings, the major characteristic of the disorder, so severe and extreme sometimes that it even affects the person’s ability to function. These mood swings are called manic episodes and depressive episodes.

Bipolar Disorder affects about 2.6 percent of the American population age 18 and above. This calculates to about 5.7 million adults. Bipolar Disorder symptoms typically begin developing in late adolescence and early adulthood; however, recent research reveals bipolar symptoms beginning as early as childhood. This is called early-onset Bipolar Disorder.

Bipolar Disorder has two separate classifications: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. Bipolar I Disorder involves recurrent episodes of mania followed by episodes of depression. Bipolar II Disorder, on the other hand, involves episodes of hypomania followed by episodes of depression.

Bipolar Disorder is not curable and is a long-term illness; however, it is manageable by medication throughout your life. Other treatments, whether you have Bipolar I or Bipolar II, will help you manage the disorder. These treatments will include regular visits to a psychiatrist, therapist and doctor. In addition, self-care techniques such as a healthy diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, etc., will help you manage your Bipolar Disorder.

Episodes of bipolar mania and depression typically recur across a patient’s life span. Between episodes, however, most bipolar people are free of symptoms; but research has shown that as many as one-third of people with bipolar do have some residual symptoms. Unfortunately, a small percentage of bipolar patients still experience chronic unremitting symptoms despite treatment. Recent treatment with electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), though, has shown promising improvement in patients during depressive episodes who have not responded to other conventional forms of treatment.

Bipolar I Disorder, like other mental illnesses, cannot yet be identified physiologically—like, for example, through a brain scan or a blood test. Therefore, a person must receive a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder I based on their symptoms, the course of their illness, and, whenever possible, their family history, as heredity is one of the causes of Bipolar Disorder.

Diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Disorder, both Bipolar I Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV).

Symptoms of Bipolar I mania include: racing thoughts, increased energy and activity, restlessness, agitation and irritability, rapid speech, distractibility, decreased need for sleep, poor judgment, increased spending, increased sex drive, excessive euphoria, and risky behavior.Symptoms of Bipolar I depression include: increased sad moods and feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in usual pleasurable activities, decreased sex drive, decreased energy, fatigue, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, decreased appetite, and thoughts of death or suicide.