Bipolar Disorder: Extreme Changes

Bipolar disorder: not just anger and smile
Rahman Mohamed

Bipolar Disorder: Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) defines it as a mood disorder.  A mood disorder is a condition when a person feels a certain way for a long time.  Everyone has that time when they feel as if they’re on cloud nine; or that time when they’re sitting in the dumpster and nobody could be feeling worse.  The difference between that and a mood disorder: how long you feel a certain way and the intensity.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression; depression is a mood disorder.  Depression is a state of intense despair or sadness; SAD is a form of depression that concurs with changes in season.

Bipolar varies with people.  Some feel extreme changes frequently for long periods of time.  Others’ moods change less often or last for shorter times.

Most people with bipolar disorder have three moods or episodes: a depression, a mania, and a period of wellness between the two.  During the Mania a person feels extreme euphoria – like others he feels as if he can do anything and is super happy.  During the Depression he feels extreme despair.  Between the two there’s the period of wellness – his emotions/mood is considered normal; it changes with the environment and activity like others.  The National Institute of Mental Health defines four types of bipolar disorder based on the extremity of the mood and the length of time the episode lasts.

Based on how long and its intensity, the euphoria episode is classified as “hypomania” or “mania”.  Hypomania is considered less intense or less severe than mania.  At this time a person feels as if happy and has lots of energy.  He has extreme self-esteem and confidence, less of a need for sleep, increased talking, a hyperactive mind (more thoughts and ideas), poor judgment, and quick decisions/activity.

During the depression episode a person experiences things similar to others affected by depression or SAD – change in weight, expressing a depressive mood, no interest or pleasure in usual activities.  The person can also be suicidal – considering or attempting suicide.  This is watched closely.

Like SAD, Bipolar Disorder is considered a recurrent disorder; a person’s symptoms recur rather than remaining continuous.  SAD has been linked to being caused by a change in melatonin or Vitamin D because of a lack of sunlight.  Although no link has been identified as a cause for Bipolar Disorder, on January 24 Science Daily published an article of a study by the University of Texas Health Science Centre at Houston linking the hippocampus to Bipolar Disorder.  Bo Cao, PhD, an author of the study said

Our study is one of the first to locate possible damage of bipolar disorder in specific subfields within the hippocampus … This is something that researchers have been trying to answer. The theory was that different subfields of the hippocampus may have different functions and may be affected differently in different mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder and major depression disorder.

Using MRIs and “state-of-the-art segmentation approach” the hippocampus of subjects with bipolar disorder, subjects with other mood disorders, and healthy subjects was compared.  It was found that subjects with mood disorders had a smaller hippocampus, a smaller “subfield 4 of the cornu ammonis (CA)”.  It was smaller for bipolar subjects compared with subjects of other mood disorders.

Later, on January 26, Science Daily, reported findings of a genetic link.  Under the guidance of Fujita Health University and RIKEN in Japan it was found that a gene related to metabolizing fatty acids played a role in patients with bipolar disorder.  Previous studies found hyperglycemia or metabolic syndrome in patients with Bipolar Disorder.  Although it cannot be used clinically yet it opens the door for the development of new medical treatment.

Other causes suggested are family history, lifestyle, physical health, and personal experiences.  Treatment most often includes medication – mood stabilizers together with support groups, and other treatments.

For more information about bipolar disorder or other behavioural disorders visit Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) or Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

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