Causes and Effects of Bipolar Disorder

The signs, symptoms, and effects of bipolar disorder can be different for every person impacted. Learning about bipolar disorder is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder and mental health

Bipolar disorders are mental health challenges that can have a dramatically negative impact on both the substance and quality of a person’s life. Characterized by significant and unpredictable changes in energy, mood, and activity levels, bipolar disorders can undermine a person’s efforts to develop and maintain healthy relationships, experience academic and/or occupational success, and otherwise engage in the behaviors that are consistent with a productive, satisfying, and independent lifestyle.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-5) identifies three main types of bipolar disorders:

  • Bipolar I disorder is characterized by dramatic mood shifts and at least one manic episode. A manic episode may involve uncharacteristic energy, grandiosity, talkativeness, distractibility, and racing thoughts, and will last for at least one week. Many people who develop bipolar I disorder may also experience hypomanic episodes, which are similar to but briefer than manic episodes, lasting for at least four days. They may also experience major depressive episodes, which are described in the bipolar II section. However, periods of hypomania and/or major depression are not required for a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder.
  • Bipolar II disorder includes one or more major depressive episodes and at least one hypomanic episode. Major depressive episodes may involve persistent profound sadness, diminished interest in significant activities, fatigue, recurrent thoughts of death, and similarly distressing symptoms, and will last for at least two weeks.
  • Cyclothymic disorder is characterized by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms that do not meet the criteria for a hypomanic episode and several periods with depressive symptoms that do not meet the criteria for major depression.

Bipolar disorders can negatively impact virtually all aspects of a person’s life. However, with proper professional treatment, people who struggle with bipolar disorder can learn to manage their symptoms and experience an improved quality of life.

Statistics

Bipolar disorder statistics

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), bipolar disorder affects about 5.5 million adults in the United States, or about 2.5% of the nation’s adult population. Bipolar disorder occurs at a relatively consistent rate among both women and men. Multiple research efforts have reported that fewer than half of people who are experiencing symptoms of a bipolar disorder are receiving professional care. Mental health experts have also estimated that about 15% of individuals who have bipolar disorder end their own lives.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

The APA reports that a person’s risk for developing a bipolar disorder may be influenced by a variety of factors, including the following:

Genetic: The APA reports that having a family member who has developed either bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder can lead to a tenfold increase in a person’s risk for also experiencing a bipolar disorder. The closer a person is related to someone with bipolar disorder, the greater his or her risk becomes of also developing this type of mental illness.

Environmental: The APA has identified being separated, divorced, or widowed and living in a high-income nation as environmental influences on the development of bipolar disorder when a genetic predisposition for the illness is present.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of bipolar disorder
  • Family history of schizophrenia
  • Personal history of trauma (if a genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder exists)
  • Being separated, divorced, or widowed (if a genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder exists)
  • Experiencing excessive stress (if a genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder exists)
  • Living in a high-income nation (if a genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder exists)

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

An individual who develops a bipolar disorder may experience a variety of behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial signs and symptoms. These experiences may vary from person to person, and will depend upon whether the individual is experiencing a manic or depressive episode. The following are among the more common indicators that a person may have developed bipolar disorder:

Behavioral symptoms (manic episode):

  • Acting in a reckless, risky, or otherwise dangerous manner
  • Excessively rapid pattern of speech
  • Inability to remain on one topic in conversation
  • Restlessness
  • Fidgeting

Behavioral symptoms (depressive episode):

  • Pattern of frequent absences from school or work
  • Loss of interest in significant activities
  • Expressions of self-hatred
  • Self-harm

Physical symptoms (manic episode):

  • Changes in eating patterns and resultant fluctuations in weight
  • Dramatic increase in energy
  • No apparent need for sleep
  • Heightened sexual arousal
  • Grinding of teeth

Physical symptoms (depressive episode):

  • Changes in eating patterns and resultant fluctuations in weight
  • Hypersomnia
  • Fatigue and/or exhaustion

Cognitive symptoms (manic episode):

  • Impulsivity
  • Sensation of racing thoughts
  • Overconfidence

Cognitive symptoms (depressive episode):

  • Diminished ability to concentrate or focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Impaired decision-making skills
  • Vivid disturbing nightmares
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms (manic episode):

  • Dramatic swings in mood
  • Excitability
  • Irritability
  • Significant increase in feelings of self-worth and self-esteem

Psychosocial symptoms (depressive episode):

  • Anxiety
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Withdrawal
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness

Effects

Effects of bipolar disorder

An untreated bipolar disorder can wreak significant havoc on a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and/or social wellbeing, and can lead to many negative effects and outcomes, including the following:

  • Cognitive limitations
  • Family discord
  • Difficulties making and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Substandard academic performance
  • Delayed or diminished academic progress
  • Impaired functioning at work
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial problems and lowering of socioeconomic status
  • Substance abuse
  • Withdrawal
  • Social ostracization
  • Physical injury as a result of impulsive behaviors
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Many people who struggle with bipolar disorders may also have an increased risk for the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Substance use disorders, especially alcohol use disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)

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