Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depressive disorder, is a mental health condition that affects an individual’s mood, energy, and ability to function. The condition causes people to undergo drastic shifts in mood, which can severely impair their ability to go about daily life.
The shifts in mood tend to be severe and can range from periods of depression to episodes of mania. During a manic episode, an individual may experience elevated energy, impulsive behavior, and grandiose thinking. During a depressive episode, an individual may feel sad, hopeless, and helpless.
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. According to statistics, nearly 2.7 percent of the American adult population have bipolar disorder at any given year, with more than 80 percent of those cases resulting in severe impairment.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
During Manic Episodes:
- High energy levels and increased activity
- Elevated or irritable mood
- Racing thoughts and rapid speech
- Increased self-esteem and grandiose beliefs about oneself or one’s abilities
- Impulsive or risky behavior
During Depressive Episodes:
- Low energy levels and decreased activity
- Sad, empty, or irritable mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, etc.
- Difficulty concentrating and making
- Poor appetite
- Poor sleep patterns
- Suicidal ideation
Bipolar Disorder and the Brain
Brain imaging studies have shown that bipolar disorder is associated with structural and functional abnormalities in the brain. Specifically, studies have revealed differences in the structure and function of certain brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex and amygdala, in individuals with bipolar disorder compared to those without the condition.
The prefrontal cortex, located at the front of the brain, is responsible for a variety of functions, including attention, decision-making, and impulse control. Studies have shown that in individuals with bipolar disorder, the prefrontal cortex may be less active during manic episodes, leading to impulsive behavior and poor decision-making.
The amygdala, located deep within the brain, is responsible for processing emotions such as fear and aggression. For individuals with bipolar disorder, the amygdala is overactive during manic episodes, leading to heightened emotions and impulsive behavior.
The hippocampus is a region of the brain that plays a key role in memory and learning. Studies have shown that in individuals with bipolar disorder, the hippocampus may be smaller in size compared to those without the disorder. This could explain why people with bipolar disorder often have trouble with memory.
The limbic system is a set of brain structures that control emotions and mood. Studies show that for individuals with bipolar disorder, the limbic system is overactive during manic episodes and underactive during depressive episodes. This could explain the extreme shifts in mood that are characteristic of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder and Chemical Balance in the Brain
In addition to the structural and functional abnormalities in the brain, bipolar disorder is also associated with chemical imbalances. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and noradrenaline are involved in regulating mood, and imbalances of these chemicals may contribute to the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
In summary, bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that alters the structure and function of various brain regions. These changes are thought to underlie the drastic and often unpredictable shifts in mood and other symptoms seen in individuals with bipolar disorder.