Accidents happen.

That's clearly the case in everyday life when we spill milk. But when an accident happens in medical research the results can be quite pleasant. Especially if the results could produce a new treatment for bipolar disorder.

It happens a lot more frequently than one would expect in the medical world. Researchers begin examining a way to treat a memory problem, for example, and discover a treatment for bipolar disorder.

Just ask National Institute of Mental Health researchers Maura Furey and Dr. Wayne Drevets. They were testing the drug call scopolamine. Its licensed application is for the treatment of motion sickness. They researched its effectiveness on improving memory and attention spans on individuals who were depressed. They were not intentionally searching for a new method of relieving depression associated with bipolar disorder.

They were startled, then, when those in the study reported feeling less depressed following the injections. After all, most antidepressants take weeks to take effect. The two researchers quickly changed the focus of their study. They now turned to the possibility of using this medication to help lift the depression associated with bipolar disorder.

As a result, in October 2006, they published a preliminary report that indicated scopolamine could have a beneficial impact on those dealing with bipolar disorder. They were so encouraged, in fact, that within the last year they've expanded this line of research. Now they're testing skin patches of this medication on those with bipolar disorder. The researchers caution, though, that if you suffer with bipolar disorder, you should not attempt to self-medication yourself with scopolamine.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by the rapid shifting of mood swings from crushing depressions to euphoric highs, called manic episodes. The depressive episodes of bipolar disorder are so devastating that some individuals consider suicide. The manic episodes are so intense and so grand, that some of those with bipolar disorder find they are unable to sleep because of the vast amount of energy.

Currently, the only effective medication to treat the depressive episodes of bipolar disorder is lithium. Characteristically, bipolar disorder is treated with medications as well as various forms of cognitive behavioral therapy.

There are approximately 5.7 million people in the United States alone who suffer with bipolar disorder. For the most part, individuals are most likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder between the years of 18 and 22. It's not unusual, though, for children to receive the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. It is also possible for older individuals to also be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.