Bipolar disorder can be severe and long-term, or it can be mild with infrequent episodes. Patients with the disease may experience symptoms in very different ways. A typical bipolar disorder patient averages 8 - 10 manic or depressive episodes over a lifetime. However, some people experience more and some fewer episodes.
Medical evidence has shown that patients with bipolar disorder have higher death rates from suicide, heart problems, and death from all causes than those in the general population. Patients who get treatment, however, experience great improvement in survival rates, including deaths from suicide.
Typical Bipolar Cycles. In most cases of bipolar disorder, the depressive phases far outnumber manic phases, and the cycles of mania and depression are neither regular nor predictable. Many patients experience mixed mania, or a mixed state, in which both mania and depression coexist for at least 7 days.
Rapid Cycling. About 15% of patients with the disorder have a temporary, complicated phase known as rapid cycling. With this phase the manic and depressive episodes alternate at least four times a year and, in severe cases, can even progress to several cycles a day. Rapid cycling tends to occur more often in women and in those with bipolar II. Typically, rapid cycling starts in the depressive phase, and frequent and severe episodes of depression may be the hallmark of this event. This phase is difficult to treat, particularly since antidepressants can trigger the switch to mania and set up a cyclical pattern.
Differences Between Children and Adults. Research suggests that symptoms of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents differ from those of adults. While adults with bipolar disorder usually have distinct and persistent periods of mania and depression, children with bipolar disorder fluctuate rapidly in their mood and behavior. Mania in children is characterized by irritability and belligerence whereas adults tend to experience euphoria. Children with bipolar depression are frequently angry and restless, and may have additional mood and behavioral disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and substance abuse problems.
It is not yet clear how frequently childhood bipolar disorder persists into adulthood or if treating childhood bipolar disorder can help prevent future illness.
ACOG Committee on Practice Bulletins--Obstetrics. ACOG Practice Bulletin: Clinical management guidelines for obstetrician-gynecologists number 92, April 2008 (replaces practice bulletin number 87, November 2007). Use of psychiatric medications during pregnancy and lactation. Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Apr;111(4):1001-20.
Benazzi F. Bipolar disorder -- focus on bipolar II disorder and mixed depression. Lancet. 2007 Mar 17;369(9565):935-45.
Frans EM, Sandin S, Reichenberg A, Lichtenstein P, Langström N, Hultman CM. Advancing paternal age and bipolar disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Sep;65(9):1034-40.
Geller B, Tillman R, Bolhofner K, Zimerman B. Child bipolar I disorder: prospective continuity with adult bipolar I disorder; characteristics of second and third episodes; predictors of 8-year outcome. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Oct;65(10):1125-33.
Gentile S. Extrapyramidal adverse events associated with atypical antipsychotic treatment of bipolar disorder. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2007 Feb;27(1):35-45.
Jarema M. Atypical antipsychotics in the treatment of mood disorders. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2007 Jan;20(1):23-9.
McClellan J, Kowatch R, Findling RL; Work Group on Quality Issues. Practice parameter for the assessment and treatment of children and adolescents with bipolar disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2007 Jan;46(1):107-25.
Merikangas KR, Akiskal HS, Angst J, et al. Lifetime and 12-month prevalence of bipolar spectrum disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 May;64(5):543-52.
Miklowitz DJ, Otto MW, Frank E, et al. Psychosocial treatments for bipolar depression: a 1-year randomized trial from the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Apr;64(4):419-26.
Montgomery P, Richardson AJ. Omega-3 fatty acids for bipolar disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Apr 16;(2):CD005169.
Moreno C, Laje G, Blanco C, Jiang H, Schmidt AB, Olfson M. National trends in the outpatient diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder in youth. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Sep;64(9):1032-9.
Morriss RK, Faizal MA, Jones AP, Williamson PR, Bolton C, McCarthy JP. Interventions for helping people recognise early signs of recurrence in bipolar disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jan 24;(1):CD004854.
Sachs GS, Nierenberg AA, Calabrese JR, et al. Effectiveness of adjunctive antidepressant treatment for bipolar depression. N Engl J Med. 2007 Apr 26;356(17):1711-22. Epub 2007 Mar 28.
Scherk H, Pajonk FG, Leucht S. Second-generation antipsychotic agents in the treatment of acute mania: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2007 Apr;64(4):442-55.
Smith LA, Cornelius V, Warnock A, Bell A, Young AH. Effectiveness of mood stabilizers and antipsychotics in the maintenance phase of bipolar disorder: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Bipolar Disord. 2007 Jun;9(4):394-412.
© 2011 University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). All rights reserved.
UMMC is a member of the University of Maryland Medical System,
22 S. Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. TDD: 1-800-735-2258 or 1.866.408.6885