Bipolar Disorder - Description

Bipolar disorder affects about two million Americans. The average age at which the disorder first appears is between adolescence and the midtwenties. Sometimes a correct diagnosis of the disorder is not made for years. It is complex and difficult to identify. In one study of bipolar disorder patients, half said that they saw three or more doctors before receiving a correct diagnosis. Over one third waited more than ten years before their condition was recognized.

Psychiatrists list four types of bipolar disorder. The four types differ largely on three factors. One factor is whether mania (the highs) or depression (the lows) is more common in the patient. The second factor is how serious each condition is. The third factor is how fast the patient alternates between stages.

Patients with bipolar I disorder, for example, have extreme high periods with relatively moderate periods of depression. By contrast, those with bipolar II disorder are more likely to have severe depression, separated by relatively modest periods of mania.

A third type of bipolar disorder is called cyclothymia (pronounced siekluh-THIE-mee-uh). Patients with this condition have relatively moderate periods of both mania and depression. They may almost appear to be without either symptom for long periods of time. The fourth type of bipolar disorder is called rapid cycling. In this condition, a patient changes from periods of great energy to periods of depression fairly often, usually at least four times in a single year.

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