A few years back, a 22- year old college student was brought to a clinic by her parents for symptoms of altered behaviour. She was a bright, top-ranking and talented student who was usually happy, and generally calm and polite; but her behaviour had changed over the previous week. She suddenly seemed excessively cheerful all the time for no apparent reason, would talk excessively, was very energetic, didn’t seem to need much sleep, would wake up at 4 a.m. and start cooking and listening to loud music. She became very irritable, started driving rashly and became aggressive when stopped. This is when she was brought for a consultation and diagnosed with a bipolar mood disorder.
What is Bipolar Mood Disorder?
Bipolar mood disorder includes a wide range of conditions that affect an individual’s mood and behaviour and interfere with their daily functioning. Unlike unipolar depression, bipolar disorder is characterised by distinct manic or hypomanic episodes and also most often, depressive episodes. Symptoms of a manic episode include an elevated or irritable mood, greatly increased energy levels and activity, decreased need for sleep, inflated self-esteem, grandiose ideas, thinking too fast, talking too fast and excessively, getting distracted easily, with poor judgement, and often denial of their symptoms. Manic episodes may last for a week or more and are characteristic of Bipolar Disorder.
What causes Bipolar Mood Disorder?
Genetic factors play a major role, as bipolar disorder can be inherited. An imbalance in the levels of neurotransmitters (chemicals produced by the brain cells or neurons) such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, or an altered sensitivity of receptors on nerve cells can cause bipolar disorder. While stress can act as a trigger, it does not cause bipolar disorder.
Depressive episodes are highly prevalent during the course of bipolar disorder and are similar to those in unipolar depression.
Approximately 3% to 4% of the world’s population suffers from bipolar disorder. The severity of the illness ranges from mild to very punishing. Though both men and women are affected by the condition, there are some differences in the way it is experienced by the two genders. Bipolar disorder is likely to start at an early age in women as compared to men. Women are likely to experience more depressive rather than manic or hypomanic episodes through the course of the illness.
The Diabetic Angle
Bipolar disorder has a serious impact not only on the individual’s social and professional life but also on their physical health. It can trigger or worsen several medical conditions, including diabetes, which has emerged as a serious health risk for these individuals.
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly go a long way in keeping both illnesses in check. Stress levels must be kept in check to prevent relapses. An effective way to do this is to develop and nurture a hobby.