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Recognizing the Signs of Bipolar Disorder

Could your extreme mood swings signal a mental health issue?

Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic depression, is a condition that causes extreme mood swings. People who suffer from bipolar disorder may spend weeks feeling extreme euphoria, followed by periods of relentless depression. The length of each high and low varies from person to person. In most cases, the onset of symptoms is between 15 and 30 years old.

Though doctors aren’t sure what causes bipolar disorder, a leading theory is that brain chemicals fluctuate abnormally. When levels of some chemicals become too high, the patient develops mania and may not sleep, become easily distracted or act recklessly. When levels drop too low, depression results. During this phase, a person with bipolar disorder may feel hopeless, lose interest in their favorite activities and contemplate suicide. It is possible to experience mixed episodes of depression and mania at the same time. Some estimates suggest up to 70 percent of bipolar patients experience mixed episodes.

There is no lab test for bipolar disorder. A psychiatrist makes a diagnosis based on a careful history and evaluation of the patient’s mood and other symptoms.

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