Bipolar Disorder: New Theories About What Causes It
Scientists now believe that genetics is just one cause of the complex illness that is bipolar disorder. Although it does tend to run in families, environmental factors surely come into play.
An Unpredictable Disease
About 2.6 percent of adults in the U.S. have bipolar disorder, which is classified into several types ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms vary according to type, but the best word to describe them is unpredictable.
Manic episodes are marked by extreme euphoria, high energy, racing thoughts and a tendency to make unrealistic plans that never pan out. A sudden plunge into depression, on the other hand, may trigger uncontrollable crying, dramatic weight gain or loss, excessive sleeping, apathy or hopelessness.
Symptoms can be so severe that they affect relationships, job performance and the ability to perform everyday tasks. In the most serious cases, self-destruction and suicide attempts are not uncommon.
Fortunately, bipolar disorder can be treated. With professional care, people manage the disease and live fulfilling lives.
If genetics was the sole cause of bipolar disorder, then both identical twins would have it if one did. That isn’t always the case.
Researchers are exploring other markers that many patients have in common. The conditions below may not directly cause the illness, but it’s certain that they contribute to its progression:
- Individual biology
Neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, regulate mood, sleep, judgment and other functions. Malfunctioning neurotransmitters have been discovered in some people with bipolar disorder.
Just about everyone has to cope with some degree of stress, but many people with bipolar disorder have experienced extreme, prolonged anxiety. Holocaust survivors, soldiers who saw combat and workers in the aftermath of 9/11, for example, are prone to the condition.
Trauma may be physical, mental or emotional. A serious head injury can result in mental illness. A traumatic event can be anything from divorce to being robbed at gunpoint. In diagnosing bipolar disorder, doctors take trauma very seriously. Some people suffer long-term effects from upsetting life events.
Abuse can take many forms. Parental neglect, domestic violence or even belittling words can have lifelong repercussions. It’s not uncommon for a victim of long-time domestic abuse to undergo a complete personality change. Sexual crimes are especially harmful. Rape, inappropriate touching or being groomed for sex from an early age can do irreparable damage. Victims are susceptible to bipolar disorder, addiction, eating disorders, panic attacks and a host of other mental problems.
Bipolar disorder responds well to medication combined with therapy. There are also a number of natural supplements that help, but it’s imperative that patients inform their doctors before trying anything new.
Great strides have been made to help people cope and manage symptoms. As long as they’re keeping in close touch with their physicians and therapists, there are positive steps that patients can take on their own:
- Eat well, exercise and get plenty of sleep
- Try alternative approaches like aromatherapy, spa therapy or yoga
- Stick to a well-planned routine
- Set an alarm so that medicine is taken every day at the same time
- Maintain a good balance between social time and private time
- Enlist friends and family members in a network of support
- Attend monitored support groups in person or online
- Monitor moods
- Recognize potential warning signs such as changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
- Have an action plan in place for times of crisis
Bipolar disorder can’t be prevented, but being aware of the causes enables those who are at high risk to seek help early on.