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What Type of Bipolar Disorder Is It?

Each bipolar disorder illness is unique!

Uniqueness of Bipolar DisorderWhen nearly anyone thinks about bipolar disorder, they think of the symptoms of “regular” bipolar disorder.  Not that any person with bipolar disorder is “regular” (and most would not want to be), but there are several different subtypes of bipolar disorder.

One big problem with bipolar disorder is that each illness is unique.  Psychiatrists may classify them into categories – but they don’t always fit.  Here are some case scenarios: (bipolar episodesbipolar groups)

•    Jennifer has episodes where she is extremely agitated and unhappy and never seems to sleep very much.  These periods seem to last for a long period of time – but can alternate with months where she is simply unhappy and doesn’t feel like doing anything.
•    Max has had periods of depression before.  A lot of times, they go away after a couple of months and then he seems normal but recently he “disappeared” for a couple of weeks after some really bizarre behavior.  His friends never knew that he was any kind of bipolar until he told them he had been at the hospital.
•    Ben has periods of depression that can last for several months but when he is not depressed, he is productive and seems quite outgoing.
•    Sandra’s mood state can switch erratically.  One day she is all about shopping and the next time you call her, she is still in bed at noon.   This is a constant issue – and you never know what you are going to get.

These are three examples of bipolar disorder that don’t seem to fit the “normal” pattern.  None of these patients seems to be “regular” bipolar.

Bipolar disorder is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as:

Bipolar Disorder TypeBipolar I Disorder: manic or mixed episodes that last at least 7 days – or if manic symptoms are severe enough to need hospitalization.  This, usually, includes periods of depression that last at least two weeks.
Jennifer and Max both fit into this category.  Even though Max never had a severe manic episode, having a bipolar episode that warrants medical attention, he qualifies for the Bipolar I category.  Jennifer has mixed episodes – rather than euphoria or traditional mania – she has periods of “dysphoria” where she is agitated, irritable and irrational but with an excess of energy.

Bipolar II Disorder: depressive and hypomanic episodes in a pattern – but manic episodes are not severe.
Ben has Bipolar II disorder.  He has periods of depression that are debilitating, but his non-depressed periods are quite productive, and he doesn’t exhibit manic behavior.

Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: (Bipolar Disorder NOS) symptoms of illness don’t meet any other group, but the symptoms are clearly not within the standard range.
Sandra has BP-NOS.  She is what is commonly called a “rapid cycler,” meaning that she switches back and forth from mania to depression much faster than other people with bipolar disorder.

There is also a very mild form of bipolar disorder known as cyclothymia.  It is a cyclical pattern of hypomania alternating with periods of mild depression.  Many people would not even realize this is a problem.

Bipolar disorder is hard to classify.  It may be easy to determine that someone has a problem – but the uniqueness of each bipolar case makes it more difficult for even a patient to identify with the diagnosis.  Each type of bipolar disorder is, usually, treated the same medically. With an anti-manic agent (Lithium), anti-epileptic (Lamictal, Depakote) or atypical antipsychotic (Abilify, Zyprexa) – and sometimes with an antidepressant.

Melissa Lind

Bipolar Disorder – Euphoria vs. Dysphoria or Mixed Episode

Most symptoms of Manic Episodes appear to be positive

Manic-depression or Bipolar disorder is usually perceived on of two ways – a person who alternates between depression and euphoria – or a person who alternates between depression and craziness.

Often a person who is told that they are bipolar will identify one of those two states – and will object based on the fact that they have never been “euphoric“, and they have never been actually psychotic or “crazy”.

Bipolar disorder or Manic-Depression is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) – “the Bible” of psychiatric disorders – as “…clinical course that is characterized by the occurrence of one or more Manic Episodes…”

7 “points” retrieved from: DSM IV Criteria for Manic Episode – Food and Drug Administration

A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least one week. With three or more of:

1. Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
2. Decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only three hours of sleep)
3. More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
4. Flight of ideas, or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
5. Distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
6. Increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
7. Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)

There is another specifier – “The symptoms do not meet criteria for a Mixed Episode” which is left out in a lot of thought processes.

Bipolar - EuphoricOne problem that is often encountered when diagnosing Bipolar disorder – or when trying to convince someone who has Bipolar disorder that they do, indeed have the illness – is that most of the “symptoms” of a Manic Episode appear to be “positive” or “happy.”  If you examine the wording – it looks on the surface and is often described as periods of “Euphoria” or extreme happiness.

In truth, many people with Bipolar disorder don’t have periods of “euphoria,” they don’t have what is perceived as “inflated self-esteem or grandiosity“, and they don’t seek out “excessive involvement in pleasurable activities.”  They may have “dysphoria,” they may believe that they have to do everything themselves, they may experience psychomotor agitation…they may be in a really active bad mood.

This is a state of “dysphoria.”  It is also called a “mixed state” where the Manic Episode and the Depressive Episode occur at the same time.  Features may include the racing thoughts, irritability, lack of sleep, psychomotor agitation of a Manic Episode but also include anhedonia or lack of enjoyment, inappropriate guilt, or suicidal thoughts which are symptoms of depression.

Unfortunately, this disconnects in presentation, and lack of awareness of mixed states (in both the patient and some professionals) often gives the bipolar patient an “easy out” in acceptance of the diagnosis.

Melissa Lind

Mixed Episode or Manic Episode with Mixed Features is given too little attention!