Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Bipolar disorder (BD) is a type of mood disorder. Bipolar disorder was called manic depression in the past. It is a psychiatric illness that causes major disruptions in lifestyle and health.
Everyone has occasional highs and lows in their moods. But people with bipolar disorder have extreme mood swings. They can go from feeling very sad, despairing, helpless, worthless, and hopeless (depression) to feeling as if they are on top of the world, hyperactive, creative, and grandiose (mania). This disease
is called bipolar disorder because the mood of a person with bipolar disorder
can alternate between two completely opposite poles, euphoric happiness, and
Symptoms of both mania and depression sometimes occur
together in what is called "mixed state."
The extremes of mood usually occur in cycles. In
between these mood swings, people with bipolar disorder are able to function
normally, hold a job, and have a normal family life. The episodes of mood
swings tend to become closer together with age.
When a person is in the grip of this disease, chaos
can occur. Bipolar disorder can cause major disruption of family and finances,
loss of job, and marital problems.
Severe depression can be life-threatening. It may be associated with thoughts of suicide, actual acts of suicide, and even acts of homicide in some
Extreme mania can lead to aggressive behavior,
potentially dangerous risk-taking behaviors, and homicidal acts.
A number of people with bipolar disorder may turn to
drugs and alcohol to "self-treat" their emotional disorder, resulting in
abuse and dependence.
Most people start showing signs of bipolar disorder in
their late teens (the average age of onset is 21 years). These signs may be dismissed as "growing pains" or normal teenage behavior. On occasion, some people have their first symptoms during childhood, but the condition can often be misdiagnosed at this age and improperly labeled as a behavioral problem. Bipolar disorder may not be properly diagnosed until the sufferer is 25-40 years of
age, at which time the pattern of symptoms may become clearer.
Bipolar disorder occurs in both men and women. About 5.7 million people in the United States have the disorder. There is no racial group that is more afflicted by this disease.
Because of the extreme and risky behavior that goes with
bipolar disorder, it is very important that the disorder be identified. With
proper and early diagnosis, this mental condition can be treated. Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that will require proper management for the duration of a person's life.
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When children older than age 6 or teens have bipolar disorder, they have mood swings with extreme ups and downs. When they are up, they have brief, intense outbursts or feel irritable or extremely happy (mania) several times almost every day. They have a lot of energy and a high activity level. When they are down, they feel depressed and sad.
In the past, experts thought bipolar disorder was the same in children and adults. But symptoms in children and teens are different from those in adults, and they need different treatment.