Bipolar Disorder, also called manic-depressive illness, is a serious disorder of the brain marked by cyclical mood swings, which often disrupt work, school, family, and social life. The symptoms typically begin in a person's late teens or twenties and affect men and women equally. If left untreated, it can lead to suicide in nearly 20 percent of cases. The illness is often misunderstood and difficult to diagnose because its symptoms may not reappear for as much as a year at a time.
Many times, it is initially misdiagnosed especially when hypomania (milder manic episodes) is not recognized. Since mental illnesses cannot be identified by a blood test or a brain scan, diagnosis must be made on the basis of symptoms, patterns of the illness, and family history. The most common symptoms are episodes of mania and depression. A person with Bipolar disorder may also have neutral periods where there are no apparent mood problems. Additionally, there may be periods of "mixed moods" where the person is both depressed and manic simultaneously.
The disorder shows many other symptoms such as paranoia, intense anger, irritability, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or over-stimulated, difficulty maintaining focus, attention or concentration, suicidal thoughts and impulses, hypochondria, hallucinations, self-harm, delusions and psychotic breaks from reality. Most individuals with bipolar disorder spend more time in depressed phases than in manic phases.
Bipolar disorder has many causal factors. These include physical, mental, environmental and emotional causes and are usually divided into biological and psychological explanations. Researchers have proven that bipolar disorder is hereditary, but it can also be stress related or caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Approximately sixty percent of individuals with Bipolar disorder also have drug or alcohol dependence or exhibit obsessive compulsive activities such as excessive spending, working or cleaning. Many exhibit sexually promiscuous behavior or an obsession with fitness or body image.