bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder

The Latest in Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

You—or a loved one—feel depressed. Then very excited, or even “hyper.” Then depressed again. These ups and downs can be a sign of bipolar disorder, a brain disorder.

Though there is no cure for this disorder, medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can treat symptoms and help you feel better.

Symptoms

Bipolar disorder can be present even if symptoms do not appear extreme. There is more than one type of bipolar disorder: bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder.

Bipolar I disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness) causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the lack of ability to do everyday tasks. Symptoms include periods of depression alternating with periods of energized behavior (called “mania” or “manic episodes”).

In the second type of this disorder, called bipolar II disorder, a person with a less severe manic episode (called “hypomania”) may be productive and may not feel like anything is wrong. But this hypomania can then switch to major depressive episodes. So diagnosis is important.

Symptoms of depression include:

Feeling very sad or hopeless

Not having energy

Feeling like you can’t enjoy anything

Thinking about death or suicide

Symptoms of mania include:

An elevated or irritable mood

Increased activity and restlessness

Racing thoughts or talking fast

A decreased need for sleep

“People experiencing mania also can engage in impulsive behavior such as buying sprees and other risky behaviors,” says Mitchell Mathis, M.D., director of the Division of Psychiatry Products at the FDA. “This behavior is unusual for the person and can be dangerous.”

What to Do if You Suspect Bipolar Disorder

If you suspect you have a bipolar disorder, you should be evaluated by a mental health professional.

If you or a loved one has unstable mood symptoms, don’t ignore them. Talk with a doctor or other licensed mental health professional to get help.

“A doctor can complete a medical history, physical exam, and laboratory exam to rule out physical conditions that may cause similar symptoms. If symptoms are not caused by other illnesses, the doctor may then provide a referral to a mental health professional,” Mathis says.

Bipolar Disorder Treatments

“Today, people with bipolar disorder have more FDA-approved treatment options,” Mathis says.

Medications to treat bipolar disorder include: mood stabilizers, which help balance certain brain chemicals to prevent mania, hypomania, or depressive episodes; and antipsychotic drugs, which include relatively newer drugs called “atypical antipsychotics.”

“Atypical antipsychotics are often used as the first-line treatment in severely manic patients because they work quickly and are, in several ways, safer than the older antipsychotic drugs,” Mathis explains.