Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
There are three types of bipolar disorder. All three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels.
These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, irritable, or energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very “down,” sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes).
Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.
Treatment can help many people, including those with the most severe forms of bipolar disorder.
An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy, also called “talk therapy.”
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Episodes of mania and depression typically come back over time.
Between episodes, many people with bipolar disorder are free of mood changes, but some people may have lingering symptoms. Long-term, continuous treatment can help people manage these symptoms.
Certain medications can help manage symptoms of bipolar disorder. Some people may need to try several different medications and work with their health care provider before finding medications that work best.
Medications generally used to treat bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers and second-generation (“atypical”) antipsychotics. Treatment plans may also include medications that target sleep or anxiety.
Health care providers often prescribe antidepressant medication to treat depressive episodes in bipolar disorder, combining the antidepressant with a mood stabilizer to prevent triggering a manic episode.
People taking medication should:
- Talk with their health care provider to understand the risks and benefits of the medication.
- Tell their health care provider about any prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, or supplements they are already taking.
- Report any concerns about side effects to a health care provider right away. The health care provider may need to change the dose or try a different medication.
- Remember that medication for bipolar disorder must be taken consistently, as prescribed, even when one is feeling well.
Avoid stopping a medication without talking to a health care provider first. Suddenly stopping a medication may lead to a “rebound” or worsening of bipolar disorder symptoms.
Psychotherapy, also called “talk therapy,” can be an effective part of the treatment plan for people with bipolar disorder.
Psychotherapy is a term for a variety of treatment techniques that aim to help a person identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
It can provide support, education, and guidance to people with bipolar disorder and their families.
Treatment may include therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoeducation, which are used to treat a variety of conditions.
Treatment may also include newer therapies designed specifically for the treatment of bipolar disorder, including interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) and family-focused therapy.
Determining whether intensive psychotherapeutic intervention at the earliest stages of bipolar disorder can prevent or limit its full-blown onset is an important area of ongoing research.
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