Bipolar disorder is a long-term mental health condition that is characterized by wide swings in mood from deep depression through manic behavior. Scientists have not yet developed a complete understanding of the specifics of what causes bipolar disorder. Most experts believe that multiple factors acting together are the underlying causes of this complex disorder. Bipolar disorder is thought to be caused by the interactions of genetics, an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain and environmental factors such as stress or abuse.
Generally speaking, medical researchers think that the evidence is overwhelming that bipolar disorder can be inherited. This disorder is seen more frequently in people whose parents or siblings have the condition. In a sense, it runs in families, and it appears that if one family member is bipolar, other family members might be at risk of developing the disorder. Although research has focused on identifying the specific genes involved, bipolar disorder does not come about simply because of a gene or a genetic predisposition. Factors other than genetics must also be present for bipolar disorder to develop.
Another significant component of what causes bipolarity is an existing imbalance among certain neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in the brain. One neurotransmitter in particular, norepinephrine, is suspected of being central to the development of bipolarity. When levels of norepinephrine are below normal, a person might feel depressed; when levels are too high, mania might happen. Levels of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are also thought to play a part in causing bipolarity.
Even in the absence of a clear genetic history or an imbalance among brain chemicals, bipolar disorder might develop because of environmental and lifestyle factors. For example, a person might be genetically predisposed to this disorder, but it might take a major life event or traumatic experience to trigger the disorder. According to research, the loss of a job, a death in the family, the birth of a child or any of a number of other stressful events can spark the onset of a bipolar episode. Regardless of the reason, after this disorder has been triggered, the course of the disease has started, and biological and psychological processes have been set in motion that will keep the condition progressing.
Although bipolar disorder is a permanent medical condition and is disruptive to daily life, treatment plans are possible. In most cases, moods can be stabilized and controlled with the right medication. Psychological counseling might also be helpful in dealing with bipolarity.