What the heck are prodromes? "Prodromes" is a medical term for an early symptom indicating the onset of an illness or attack. In relation to bipolar disorder, prodromes are the early warning signs - the red flags - that alert us that an episode of mania or depression may be on the way. Usually mood swings or episodes develop in 4 stages:
1. Our normal temperament and personality. Think of it as the baseline. Everyone has a unique personality. When we are at our baseline we are our regular selves. We can identify our unique "normal" by identifying our enduring patterns of behavior, mood, attitudes, and habits.
2. Early warning signs. Again, these are unique to each individual. These early signals that an episode is developing are usually quite subtle. These are the faint and delicate mild symptoms that show up BEFORE the OBVIOUS signs of a mood swing into mania or depression. Examples may be irritability or a general feeling that it is getting a little harder to get through the day or accomplish small goals or tasks, or stick to your regular routine.
3. Warning signs or "prodromes". These are obvious symptoms. They are more noticeable and observable than the early warning signs, and they indicate the beginning of an episode of mania or depression. These warning signs may still differ from person to person, but generally they are the classic bipolar disorder signs of being manic or depressed. However, they are not as profound or numerous as a full blown episode. This is the point where it is clear an episode is developing and it is urgent to intervene. Prodromes require immediate action - do not wait for a full blown episode to develop.
4. Episode. By episode we mean a full blown episode of mania or depression - a number of bipolar symptoms for a period of time of sufficient severity to have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.
The actions you take to manage risks when you are at stage 2 or stage 3 need to be planned in advance. Taking action is much easier when you have the support of your medical team and loved ones. Share your mood charting with them, and get them involved in drawing up your wellness plan. Learn how to identify your personal prodromes and head any potential episode off at the pass.