Despite extensive investigation, the exact cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown. Some researchers have suggested that the cycles of moods are brought on by a viral infection, but there is yet to be any conclusive support for this theory. Others have suggested that the symptoms of bipolar disorder are triggered by stressful events in one’s life.
The most popular theory argues that bipolar disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. The brain is made up of nerve cells, called neurons, and chemicals, called neurotransmitters. According to this theory, an imbalance of one neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, is thought to cause the symptoms of bipolar disorder. It seems there are unusually high levels of norepinephrine in a person’s brain during manic episodes, and markedly low levels during depressive episodes.
Family history is another factor when determining the cause for bipolar disorder. Studies show that between 4% to 24% of those who have a relative with bipolar I will also develop the disorder. The rates for bipolar II are a bit lower; individuals who have a parent or sibling diagnosed with bipolar II have only about a 1% to 5% chance of developing the disorder. It’s important to note that, while those who have biological family members with bipolar disorder are at greater risk of getting the disorder, it does not mean they absolutely will get it.
Treating Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is usually a life-long condition. Left untreated, the periods of mania and depression can occur over and over again and episodes can progressively become more frequent and more severe. The good news is that effective treatment is available. Treatment is vital to decreasing the suffering that accompanies the disorder and preventing future episodes. Basic ways to treat bipolar disorder are therapy, medication, and a combination of the two.
There are therapists who are especially skilled and experienced at helping people who are suffering from bipolar disorder. Therapy provides a safe, comforting, and confidential setting in which to receive the kind of help and understanding that can best assist in first relieving the symptoms, then recovering, and ultimately protecting the patient from future recurrences. It can take as few as one to two weeks to receive relief from the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Medication is often used to alleviate the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizing medications, such as Depakote, Lithium, Tegretol, are most commonly used to treat bipolar disorder. During periods of depression, antidepressant medications may be prescribed.
Combination of Therapy and Medication
For those who suffer from bipolar disorder, a treatment plan of both therapy and medication can be the most effective in relieving symptoms and preventing future episodes.
Conscientious changes in lifestyle can be extremely helpful for the management of bipolar disorder. The therapist can suggest coping strategies that are particularly tailored to the daily life patterns of the individual. Some common suggestions may include:
- Communicate openly with the therapist
- Maintain medication treatment
- Keep stress as manageable as possible
- Maintain consistent patterns of activity
- Make sure to get proper sleep and rest. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day. It’s important to tell the therapist if insomnia occurs, or if waking up becomes difficult
- Stay open to feedback from family and friends who may be the first to recognize symptoms of episodes
- Avoid alcohol or mood-altering drugs
It is important to remember that even very small amounts of alcohol, caffeine, or some over-the-counter medications can disrupt sleep and ultimately affect mood quality.