Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme changes in one’s emotional state. Bipolar disorder was formerly called manic depression due to the experiences one has with states of mania followed by states of depression. During a previous blog we discussed bipolar disorder, its symptoms, characteristics, risk factors and treatments in detail so here, we will briefly review common symptoms and types of bipolar disorder before discussing how bipolar disorder can impact so much more than emotions. Bipolar disorder and its associated symptoms have the potential to affect almost every area of your body which can lead to detrimental effects on your mental health above and beyond manic and depressive episodes.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

There are three primary symptoms which commonly occur with bipolar disorder. They include mania, hypomania, and depression. Depression has commonly been associated with bipolar disorder however, to receive a diagnosis, one does not need to experience depressive episodes.

Mania

Mania occurs when the person goes through what is best described as an emotional high. They feel emotions such as excitement, impulsivity, and euphoria. Manic episodes are characterized by above average energy levels which can have a detrimental impact on your teens ability to sleep or focus. During manic episodes, your teen may also engage in undesirable behavior such as spending sprees, unprotected sexual encounters, or drug use. You may also notice an increase in irritability and restlessness during periods of mania.

Hypomania

Hypomania is generally associated with bipolar II disorder. Below we have briefly described the three common bipolar diagnoses. This state is like that of mania; however, it is not as severe. Unlike manic episodes, hypomania may not result in difficulties at work, school, or social relationships. However, people with hypomania still notice alterations in their mood.

Depression

Depressive episodes are the exact opposite of manic episodes and will have essentially, opposite effects on the body and emotions. During an episode of depression, you may notice your teen feeling deep sadness, hopelessness, loss of energy, lack of interest in commonly enjoyed activities, or excessive sleep. In some cases, your teen may also express suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm. Depressive episodes can also cause irritability and restlessness.

Depressive episodes caused by bipolar disorder will last at least two weeks, whereas manic episodes may last for several days or several weeks. It is not uncommon for people to experiences changes in mood several times during the year, although some people experience changes rarely. This is what makes a diagnosis of bipolar disorder so difficult for medical providers. Unlike some other mental health conditions, the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder are quite varied, and their occurrence is also different from person to person.

It is also possible to experience a mixed state of depression and mania. During these phases you may notice your teen exhibiting symptoms or emotional dysregulation common in both phases.

Three Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three main types of bipolar disorder, including bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia.

Bipolar I

This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by the appearance of at least one manic episode. A person with bipolar I may experience hypomanic or major depressive episodes before and after they experience a manic episode. This type of bipolar disorder affects both genders equally.

Bipolar II

People with this type of bipolar disorder experience one major depressive episode that lasts at least two weeks. They also have at least one hypomanic episode that lasts a few days. Although thought to be more common in women, this type of bipolar affects both men and women.

Cyclothymia

Teens with cyclothymia will experience episodes of hypomania and depression. The duration and severity of symptoms is much less than that of bipolar I or bipolar II disorder. Most people with cyclothymia only experience a month or two at a time where their moods are stable.

How Bipolar Affects the Body and Mental Health

The Brain and central nervous system

Bipolar disorder primarily affects the brain which is part of your central nervous system. Your central nervous system is responsible for a variety of different body activities including those that are physical and those that can impact your mental health. Some of the effects bipolar disorder can have on your central nervous system include:

  • Irritability
  • Aggressiveness
  • Hopelessness and severe sadness
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of immense happiness
  • Overactivity, excessive energy
  • Being easily distracted
  • Forgetfulness
  • Being overly defensive
  • Difficulties concentrating

Many of these symptoms can lead to other mental health challenges and co-occurring mental health disorders. Some of these symptoms can also lead to co-occurring substance abuse disorders. This happens when a person experiences manic symptoms or excessive depressive symptoms and turns to substances as a means of coping. Sometimes, coping becomes an abuse or misuse disorder leading to increased difficulties.

Cardiovascular System

Anxiety and bipolar disorder often go hand in hand. Some of the symptoms experienced during various bipolar stages can lead to symptoms associated with anxiety and can be difficult to adequately manage. Wen someone experience anxiety symptoms in addition to bipolar disorder, it can impact their cardiovascular system as well. These impacts manifest in the form of heart palpitations, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and increased pulse. People with bipolar disorder are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with anxiety or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and therefore cardiovascular complications are at an increased risk due to these potential co-occurring mental health conditions.

Endocrine System

Your endocrine system consists of (and controls) hormones that rely heavily on messages received from the brain. When these signals are disrupted due to bipolar disorder or a co-occurring mental health condition a person can experience hormone fluctuations.

These hormone fluctuations can affect your libido (sex drive) and your weight. Bipolar disorder can affective your weight during depressive phases because you may experience an increase in appetite (or a decrease) which can result in weight fluctuations. Depending on their severity, these fluctuations in weight can lead to other mental health illness such as depression (not related to bipolar disorder) and disordered eating.

Skeletal and Muscular Systems

Bipolar disorder does not have a direct impact on your skeletal or muscular systems however, symptoms experienced during depressive episodes can affect both. Depression can lead to unexpected aches and pains which can make everyday activities difficult to manage. As above, overwhelming feelings of depression can lead to other mental health related illness which can occur as one tries to cope with depression, pain management, anxiety and other symptoms resulting from their bipolar disorder.

Gastrointestinal System

The feelings of anxiety associated with bipolar disorder can make an individual feel tired and irritable which can have a significant impact on their gastrointestinal system and its ability to properly function. Some of these effects can include abdominal pain diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. It can also cause changes and alterations in appetite and dietary intake. Similar to negative affects caused by alterations in the endocrine system, this can result in other mental and physical health conditions related to disordered eating.

Other Effects

Bipolar disorder can also effect your performance at work, at school and in your relationships. Resulting effects from bipolar disorder can lead to mental health impacts related to substance abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse and misuse and financial difficulties. In severe cases, the emotional difficulties and alterations in mood as related to bipolar disorder can result in suicidal ideations or failed suicide attempts.

Treating Bipolar Disorder

Teens who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder are at an increased risk for developing a co-occurring mental health or substance use disorder. In fact, research suggests people with bipolar disorder are between thirty and fifty percent more likely to develop a substance use disorder. Other co-occurring disorder (or comorbidities) such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, anxiety disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Unfortunately, these conditions including bipolar disorder are not conditions that “go away, however, with proper treatment the symptoms can be managed.

There are several different treatments for bipolar disorder including therapy and medication.

Medication:

Several different medication-related treatments have been approved for use in treating bipolar disorder. As with most medications, they should be prescribed by and their effects monitored by your teen’s medical provider. Additionally, medications are not necessarily a “cure all” when it comes to symptom management. Medications tend to work better when used in conjunction with various other forms of therapy.

Balance - Bipolar Disorder - Hillcrest Young Man - Bipolar Disorder - Hillcrest

Psychotherapy:

Common Psychotherapeutic interventions used in the treatment of bipolar disorder include cognitive-behavioral therapy (or talk therapy) and psychoeducation. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is geared towards helping your teen develop healthy and safe ways to manage the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder and other co-occurring mental health conditions. Psychoeducation is an approach geared towards the larger family unit and designed to help both your teen and the members of your family understand bipolar disorder.

Psychotherapy treatment can take place in a variety of settings including residential treatment offered here at Hillcrest. At Hillcrest your teen will have access to 24/7 care when needed which can be highly beneficial if your teen is struggling to manage their bipolar symptoms in addition to another co-occurring disorder such as disordered eating or substance abuse. At Hillcrest, our team of medical providers, nutritionists, therapists and pharmacists will work together to design a treatment plan specific to the needs of your teen. We understand the decision to seek treatment can be difficult and sometimes scary for your teen and their family. At Hillcrest, our team is here to guide you through the steps associated with this challenging decision.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that does not have a cure. It can also have negative impacts on other functions in the body which can lead to co-occurring mental health conditions that are best addressed through appropriate treatment. If your teen is struggling with the symptoms of bipolar disorder (or another mental health condition) reach out to us at Hillcrest today to learn more about our teen mental health treatment programs.