Bipolar spectrum disorder (BSD), previously known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that results in significant and severe changes in mood, energy, activity levels and ability to carry out routine tasks. These shifts are more severe than the normal ups and downs that most people experience.
Nearly 6 million adults in America are affected by bipolar disorder, which can also affect children and adolescents. The onset of the disorder most commonly begins in young adulthood (late teens to mid-20s), but it can also start in childhood or as late as in a person’s 50s.
Men and women are equally likely to develop the disorder, which tends to run in families. People with a parent or sibling with the condition are more likely to develop it. This indicates there may be a genetic factor involved. However, it’s important to know that having a family member with the condition does not mean that you will get it too. In addition, remember that your genetics are not your destiny. A growing body of evidence shows that your lifestyle habits can either turn on or turn off your genes.
Because bipolar disorder involves both manic episodes and depressive episodes that shift in a cyclical pattern, people with the condition typically experience a broad range of symptoms.
Manic episodes are characterized by:
Depressive episodes are characterized by:
Some people may also experience mixed episodes, which are characterized by a combination of the manic and depressive symptoms listed above. Women tend to experience more depressive and mixed episodes compared with men and are also more likely to experience rapid cycling between episodes.
Symptoms can range in severity, but 83% of people with the disorder report having a severe impairment. This is higher than any other mood disorder.
Left untreated, bipolar disorder wreaks havoc on self-esteem, relationships, job performance, and school performance. According to the World Economic Forum, bipolar disorder ranks sixth on the list of the world’s leading causes of disability. Without the proper treatment, symptoms usually worsen, with 39% of people with bipolar disorder eventually being hospitalized—more than any other mental health condition!
Having bipolar disorder literally steals your life. It is associated with a decrease of over 9 years in life expectancy. In addition, people with bipolar disorder are 15 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
When dramatic mood and energy level changes get in the way of work, school, relationships, or everyday functioning—that’s when you need to seek help.
Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression, ADD/ADHD, or even schizophrenia because some of the symptoms are very similar. In addition, it’s important to know that 1 in 5 adolescents who experience an onset of major depression will develop bipolar disorder—within 5 years! What this means is that depression in younger people may actually be an early symptom of bipolar disorder.
Making the distinction between BSD and other conditions is critical because following the wrong treatment plan can make symptoms much worse. For example, when someone with bipolar disorder is misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD and given stimulant medication, it can dramatically exacerbate symptoms and cycling.
Many people who struggle with bipolar disorder wind up self-medicating with alcohol and/or drugs, which further damages their brain while aggravating behavioral and relationship issues.
This is why it is so important to look at the brain with SPECT imaging to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
At Amen Clinics, we use leading-edge brain imaging technology called SPECT that measures blood flow and activity in the brain. Brain scans can help accurately distinguish between bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, and other conditions. It can also help determine if bipolar disorder is present in addition to other conditions. Some research studies suggest that as many as 50% of those with bipolar disorder also have ADD/ADHD.
SPECT brain scans also show that many people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder actually have a traumatic brain injury that has never been properly diagnosed and treated. For these people, healing the underlying TBI can be very helpful in alleviating symptoms associated with bipolar disorder.
Only with an accurate diagnosis can you get the most effective treatment plan.
Bipolar disorder is not a simple or single condition. There are at least 4 types of the condition, including:
The distinction between the types is related to the severity of the symptoms. For example, bipolar I disorder is considered the most severe form of the condition.
At Amen Clinics, we use SPECT as part of a comprehensive evaluation to help us identify which type our patients have. Knowing your bipolar disorder type is so important because each type requires personalized treatment.
Since 1989, Amen Clinics has helped thousands of people overcome bipolar disorder with targeted solutions that are proven to produce higher than average success rates.
We believe in taking a unique brain-body approach to treatment that involves the least toxic, most effective strategies. This includes utilizing natural supplements, nutrition, exercise, helpful forms of therapy, and medication (when necessary)—all personalized for your specific type of bipolar disorder as well as any co-existing conditions.
Even though bipolar disorder is usually quite responsive to treatment, people with this condition typically have poor compliance with their treatment regimen. Often when their symptoms improve, many feel so normal they do not believe they ever had a problem to begin with and stop taking their medications or supplements. This leads to a return of symptoms.
Our brain SPECT imaging helps increase compliance by monitoring treatment progress over time. With improved compliance comes a reduction in symptoms. Seeing your brain also reduces emotional pain by showing that symptoms and behaviors are not mental problems, they’re medical problems. Brain imaging tests also help family members and loved ones gain a better understanding of your condition and encourages more support as you go through the healing process.