Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depression, is a mental illness characterized by wide mood swings from mania (euphoric/irritable states) to depression (hopeless, unhappy states). This section deals with the many issues surrounding Bipolar disorder.

For Family

When one member of a family has bipolar disorder, the illness affects every one else in the family. Family members often feel confused and alienated when a person is having an episode and is not acting like him or her self. During manic phases, family and friends may watch in disbelief as their loved one transforms into a person they do not know and can not communicate with. During episodes of depression, everyone can become frustrated desperately trying to cheer up the depressed person. And sometimes a person's moods are so unpredictable that family members may feel that they're stuck on a roller coaster ride that's out of control.

It can be tough, but family members and friends need to remember that having bipolar disorder is not the fault of the afflicted person. Supporting their loved one can make all the difference -- whether it means assuming extra responsibilities around the house during a depressive episode or admitting a loved one to the hospital during a severe manic phase.

Coping with bipolar disorder is not always easy for family and friends. Luckily, support groups are available for family members and friends of a person with bipolar disorder. Your doctor or mental health professional can give you some information about support groups in your area.

Mood Swings

People with bipolar disorder are said to have mood swings, or cycles, in which a person's mood alternates between depression and mania or hypomania. These periods of mania or depression are called episodes. The length of an episode varies from person to person, but they generally last for several weeks. Episodes usually last for the same amount of time for each individual, although they may be longer at the onset of the illness before treatment has begun.

Rapid Cycling

Most people with bipolar disorder will have at least a year of normal, productive life between episodes. However, about 10 to 30 percent of patients will develop a pattern of rapid cycling at some time during the course of their illness. Rapid cycling refers to four or more episodes which occur in one year. Unlike a typical episode, episodes which occur during rapid cycling usually last for only a day or two, or in extreme cases, just a few hours.

Preventing episodes

The best way to prevent episodes is to seek professional help (medication and therapy treatment). Studies show that without treatment, people generally suffer about four episodes in ten years. With treatment, the number of episodes per lifetime is drastically reduced.

Things to Tell Your Doctor

Your doctor will want your complete medical history to help determine a course of treatment that is appropriate for you. Please note any of these important medical facts and tell your doctor about them.

Past illnesses

Your doctor will want to know about any illnesses or conditions, allergies, hospitalizations, and surgeries including head injuries, thyroid problems, seizures, heart problems, stomach problems (e.g., ulcers), asthma.
Family History

Because bipolar disorder does seem to run in families, it is important to tell your doctor about illnesses and/or medical problems that members of your family have had. Be sure to include mental disorders (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder , psychosis, dementia, other), suicide, and alcohol or drug problems .

Over the counter or prescription medications

Some medications may react negatively with certain mood stabilizing medications. Be sure to tell your doctor about any medications you are currently taking, including...

- antibiotics
- blood pressure medication
- asthma medications
- aspirin
- allergy medications
- cold medicines
- pain killers
- birth control pills
- estrogen
- any other medications


Smoking increases the rate at which your body uses up the medication and, of course, is a general health risk. Your doctor may need to adjust your dosage based upon how much you smoke.

Alcohol and illegal drug use

Drugs, whether prescribed medications or recreational drugs, may trigger episodes of bipolar disorder and make symptoms worse. Also, combining mood stabilizing medications with alcohol or illegal drugs can create a potentially harmful drug interaction which may cause severe side effects or even death. Your doctor will strongly recommend that you stop drinking alcohol or taking street drugs before prescribing a medication for you.

Women, tell your doctor if...

- you plan to become pregnant
- you are pregnant
- you are (or plan to be) breast feeding

Most doctors will recommend that you do not become pregnant while you are taking mood stabilizing medications medications but if you do, tell your doctor immediately. A change in your medication may be required. If you have given birth, breast feeding may not be recommended because the infant may ingest some of the medication through the breast milk.