What is Bipolar Affective Disorder?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2019
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Bipolar affective disorder, which is also been called manic depression, is a type of mental illness involving severe mood swings. Patients shift between extreme high and low moods, and sometimes these swings can happen very quickly for no particular reason. In both the manic and depressed states, patients can sometimes be so impaired that they have difficulty functioning normally. The disorder is often characterized by physical differences in the brain’s anatomy, along with chemical abnormalities. There is no cure for bipolar affective disorder, but many patients are able to control the disease with enough success to live a normal life.

People suffering from bipolar disorder may have their first symptomatic episode at any age, but usually it begins in early adulthood. Bipolar affective disorder sufferers aren’t always symptomatic, and they can actually go years without having any mania or depression. Some patients do have some lingering symptoms of unstable mood in between episodes, but not to the level of extremity that would be disabling. The length of episodes varies from a few weeks to several months.

When bipolar affective disorder sufferers are in a manic state, they may experience a sense of invincibility, or a feeling that normal human limits do not apply for them. Sometimes they can have an energy overload, with rapid speech and hyperactivity. They can often be intolerant or snappish, and they may become so obsessed with a project that they can’t focus on anything else.


During the depressed phase, bipolar affective disorder sufferers may have severe feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Things that they used to enjoy may start to lose their appeal, and they might give up on life-goals. Sometimes they might suffer from prolonged fatigue, and they may have great difficulty focusing on tasks. In extreme cases, people may have thoughts of suicide, or constantly worry about their own death.

For most cases, treatment of bipolar affective disorder involves a mix of medication and behavioral elements. Often doctors will prescribe different medications for use with the manic and depressive phases. Some patients continue taking medications between phases, but there is very little clinical evidence for the effectiveness of this approach. Some of the behavioral changes that most doctors recommend include getting more sleep, avoiding extreme stress when possible, and staying away from over-stimulation. Many doctors also recommend that patients stay away from alcohol or any mood altering drugs, including caffeine or any other medication with a stimulant effect.



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