Manic depression with its two principal sub-types, bipolar disorder and major depression, was first discovered near the end of the 19th century by psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin who published his account of the disease in his Textbook of Psychiatry. As described below, there are several forms of bipolar disorder.
It should be noted that this disease does not consist of mere "ups and downs". Ups and downs are experienced by virtually everyone and do not constitute a disease. The mood swings of bipolar disorder are far more extreme than those experienced by most people.
Note: Bipolar Disorder is also commonly (and wrongly) called "manic depression" by laymen (and by some psychiatrists in the twentieth century) although this usage is now unpopular with psychiatrists, who have standardised on Kraepelin's usage of the term to describe the whole bipolar spectrum.
There is a tendency to romanticize bipolar disorder. Many artists, musicians and writers have suffered from its mood swings. But in truth, many lives are ruined by this disease; and without effective treatment, the illness is associated with a greatly increased risk of suicide.
Bipolar disorder is a serious brain disease that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, and functioning. In most populations bipolar disorder affects around 1 percent of the population. Men and women are equally likely to develop this disabling illness. The disorder typically emerges in adolescence or early adulthood, but in some cases appears in childhood. Cycles, or episodes, of depression, mania, or "mixed" manic and depressive symptoms typically recur and may become more frequent, often disrupting work, school, family, and social life.
Especially early in the course of illness, the episodes may be separated by periods of wellness during which a person suffers few to no symptoms. When 4 or more episodes of illness occur within a 12-month period, the person is said to have bipolar disorder with rapid cycling. Bipolar disorder is often complicated by co-occurring alcohol or substance abuse.
Severe depression or mania may be accompanied by symptoms of psychosis. These symptoms include: hallucinations (hearing, seeing, or otherwise sensing the presence of stimuli that are not there) and delusions (false personal beliefs that are not subject to reason or contradictory evidence and are not explained by a person's cultural concepts). Psychotic symptoms associated with bipolar disorder typically reflect the extreme mood state at the time.
Bipolar disorder takes two principal forms, neither of which requires plural "cycles". According to the DSM-IV-TR (p. 345), these two principal forms of Bipolar disorder are:
Therefore Bipolar disorder need not have both severe mania and depression and in certain cases has only episodes of the one type. There need be no "cycles" of mania and depression.
This is the reason why certain contemporary psychiatrists shy away from the original name, Manic Depression, i.e. because the latter name might suggest that all patients have both mania and depression. It has nothing to do with the notion of equal distribution of cycles of mania and depression, since there need not be any cycles at all--in fact, even when there is one (or more) bout of both mania and depression over the course of a patient's life, the two episodes may be so unrelated to each other temporally and otherwise that this need not constitute a cycle. However, a significant portion of bipolar patients does experience the classical alternating episodes (cycles) of mania and depression and therefore it is overstating the case to say that the classical alternation "rarely" occurs.
The DSM-IV treats these bipolar disorders as variants of mood or affective disorders. Others types include Major Depressive Disorder[?] and Dysthymic Disorder[?]. Bipolar and other mood disorders may have no identifiable medical, traumatic or other external cause (endogenous) or may be due to e.g. a medical condition (exogenous).
Kraepelin included in his description of Manic Depression the phenomenon that episodes of acute illness, whether mania or depression, are usually punctuated by relatively symptom-free intervals during which the patient is able to function normally both at work and in social affairs.
The cycles of bipolar disorder may be long or short, and the ups and downs may be of different magnitudes: for instance, a person suffering from bipolar disorder may suffer a protracted mild depression followed by a shorter and intense mania. The manic periods typically include euphoria, tirelessness, and impulsiveness; the depressed periods may seem much worse following a manic period.
The name bipolar disorder is used to distinguish the condition from unipolar depression, and bipolar disorder is in turn divided into two forms, "Bipolar I" and the "Bipolar II" form, considered by some as a 'milder' version of the disorder. However, other doctors believe there is no sound basis for the blanket statement that Bipolar II is "milder" than Bipolar I.
Medications, called "mood stabilizers" can sometimes be used to prevent manic or depressive episodes. Periods of depression can also be treated with antidepressants. In extreme cases where the mania or the depression is severe enough to cause psychosis, antipsychotic drugs may also be used. (See the end of the article for an external resource on psychopharmacology.) In contrast to schizophrenia, insight oriented psychotherapy may be of some use in treating bipolar disorder.
These drugs do not work in all patients, work sometimes in others, and it is very difficult to determine in any particular case whether they are effective at all since bipolar disorder is mostly transient or episodic, and patients experience remissions and periods of virtually normal functioning whether or not they receive treatment.
It is not clear how it would even be possible to determine that medications prevent such episodes. Tens of millions of patients have severe mood disorders and if any medication could prevent episodes, such diseases as bipolar disorder would be rare indeed. There is some evidence that they may be effective for some patients, some of the time but the evidence for their efficacy is at best statistical and it is virtually impossible to say that any particular patient was benefitted by any particular treatment. In discussing these medications one must also take into account the fact that many patients experience severe side effects. Until recently, one might reasonably question whether the enormously harmful side effects and the tendency to abuse psychotropic drugs outweighed any possible benefits (real or imagined).
Compliance with medications can be a major problem because some people becoming manic lose insight, or an awareness of having an illness, and discontinue medications; then they often suffer a manic episode and may suddenly find themselves initiating multiple projects often being scattered and ineffective, or may go on a spending spree or take a poorly planned trip landing them in an unfamiliar location without cash. The manic periods, euphoric as they may be, are often disastrous because of the impulsiveness and irrationality that comes with them. Contrary to the patient's wishes, the depression does not respond instantaneously to resumed medication, typically taking 2-6 weeks to respond.
Whilst bipolar disorder can be one of the most severe and devastating medical conditions, many individuals with bipolar disorder can also live full and mostly happy lives with correct management of their condition. Compared to patients with schizophrenia, persons with bipolar disorder are more likely to have periods of normal functioning in the absence of medication. Although schizophrenic patients may have remissions with relatively high levels of functioning, schizophrenic patients tend to suffer some impairment during these intervals, if they are not medicated, in contrast to persons with bipolar disorder who often appear completely normal when they are between mood swings.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was an accepted treatment in the past, and is still used today when other treatments have failed. There is current research work on transcranial magnetic stimulation as an alternative to ECT.
A variety of medications are used to treat bipolar disorder. But even with optimal medication treatment, many people with the illness have some residual symptoms. Certain types of psychotherapy or psychosocial interventions, in combination with medication, often can provide additional benefit. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy[?], interpersonal and social rhythm therapy[?], family therapy[?], and psychoeducation[?].
Lithium has long been used as a first-line treatment for bipolar disorder. Approved for the treatment of acute mania in 1970 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), lithium has been an effective mood-stabilizing medication for many people with bipolar disorder.
Anticonvulsant medications, particularly valproate and carbamazepine, have been used as alternatives to lithium in many cases. Valproate was FDA approved for the treatment of acute mania in 1995. Newer anticonvulsant medications, including lamotrigine[?], gabapentin[?], and topiramate[?], are being studied to determine their efficacy as mood stabilizers in bipolar disorder. Some research suggests that different combinations of lithium and anticonvulsants may be helpful.
According to studies conducted in Finland in patients with epilepsy, valproate may increase testosterone levels in teenage girls and produce polycystic ovary syndrome in women who began taking the medication before age 20. Increased testosterone can lead to polycystic ovary syndrome with irregular or absent menses, obesity, and abnormal growth of hair. Therefore, young female patients taking valproate should be monitored carefully by a physician.
During a depressive episode, people with bipolar disorder commonly require additional treatment with antidepressant medication. Typically, lithium or anticonvulsant mood stabilizers are prescribed along with an antidepressant to protect against a switch into mania or rapid cycling. The comparative efficacy of various antidepressants in bipolar disorder is currently being studied.
In some cases, the newer, atypical antipsychotic drugs[?] such as clozapine or olanzapine may help relieve severe or refractory symptoms of bipolar disorder and prevent recurrences of mania. More research is needed to establish the safety and efficacy of atypical antipsychotics as long-term treatments for this disorder.
Bipolar disorder appears to run in families, that is, a vulnerablility for bipolar disorder may be inherited. The rate of suicide is higher in people who have bipolar disorder than in the general population. The rate of prevalence of bipolar disorder is roughly equal (around 1%) in men and women.
More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the disorder or with unipolar major depression, indicating that the disease has a heritable component. Studies seeking to identify the genetic basis of bipolar disorder indicate that susceptibility stems from multiple genes. Scientists are continuing their search for these genes using advanced genetic analytic methods and large samples of families affected by the illness. The researchers are hopeful that identification of susceptibility genes for bipolar disorder, and the brain proteins they code for, will make it possible to develop better treatments and preventive interventions targeted at the underlying illness process.
Researchers are using advanced medical imaging techniques to examine brain function and structure in people with bipolar disorder. An important area of imaging research focuses on identifying and characterizing networks of interconnected nerve cells in the brain, interactions among which form the basis for normal and abnormal behaviors. Researchers hypothesize that abnormalities in the structure and/or function of certain brain circuits could underlie bipolar and other mood disorders. Better understanding of the neural circuits involved in regulating mood states may influence the development of new and better treatments, and may ultimately aid in diagnosis.
Many famous people are believed to have been affected by bipolar disorder, based on evidence in their own writings and contemporaneous accounts by those who knew them. Some of these people include:
There is no definitive scientific basis for classifying dead people as having had bipolar disorder, though they may very well have suffered from severe and even recurrent bouts of disordered mood. Until very recently there were no diagnostic systems with any degree of reliability. Even with the development of tools such as DSM-IV, there is a great deal of diagnostic uncertainty with living patients who have been intensively studied for decades, and there is no reason to think that it is any easier to diagnose individuals in their graves. For these reasons, some doctors regard psycho-history of this sort as a dubious endeavour.
There appears to be an association between bipolar disorder and talent in many cases - this is documented in Jamison's book "Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament".
NIMH has initiated a large-scale study at 20 sites across the U.S. to determine the most effective treatment strategies for people with bipolar disorder. This study, the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder (STEP-BD), will follow patients and document their treatment outcome for 5 to 8 years. For more information, visit the Clinical Trials page of the NIMH Web site.
In 2003, a group of American and Canadian researchers published a paper that used gene linkage[?] techniques to identify a mutation in the GRK3 gene as a possible cause of up to 10% of cases of bipolar disorder. This gene is associated with a kinase enzyme called G protein receptor kinase 3[?], which appears to be involved in dopamine metabolism, and may provide a possible target for new drugs for bipolar disorder.
Classic works on this subject include