Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depression, causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. From one day to the next it can produce dramatic mood swings that take a person from feeling so depressed that he or she can barely get out of bed, to feeling great and bounding with energy. The periods of highs and lows are called episodes—either a manic episode or a depressive episode. Because people can be genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder, the illness tends to run in families.
In rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, a person experiences four or more episode cycles within a year. At least 70 percent of those who have this type of bipolar disorder are female. It is important to note that women are also more likely to develop rapid-cycling bipolar disorder in response to treatment with antidepressants. Their use should be approached with great caution, as the drugs may actually promote a greater severity of manic episodes. The 2002 American Psychiatric Association guidelines for the treatment of bipolar disorder generally recommend conservative use of antidepressants in bipolar patients.
Unlike other depressive disorders, which are considered highly treatable, bipolar disorder is not. It is usually a life-long condition that must be managed diligently. Competent, ongoing professional treatment with a combination of medications and therapy is essential.