Patients with bipolar disorder, especially type II or cyclothymic disorder, have frequent episodes of major depression. Anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, also commonly coexist in these patients. Patients with bipolar disorder, particularly those with type II, are also subject to phobias. Symptoms of bipolar disorder in children are often confused with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Furthermore, the two conditions can coincide. In one study, 65% of adolescents with bipolar disorder met criteria for ADHD. The risk for both diagnoses is highest in white males. Symptoms are also more severe in people with both conditions. Some researchers believe that many of these disorders may actually be variations of a single disease.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder in children are often confused with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Furthermore, the two conditions can coincide. In one study, 65% of adolescents with bipolar disorder met criteria for ADHD. The risk for both diagnoses is highest in white males. Symptoms are also more severe in people with both conditions. Some researchers believe that many of these disorders may actually be variations of a single disease.
The risk for suicide is very high in patients who suffer from bipolar disorder and who do not receive medical attention. Between 10 - 15% of patients with bipolar disorder I commit suicide, with the risks being highest during episodes of depression or mixed mania (simultaneous depression and mania). Some studies suggest that the risk for suicide in patients with bipolar disorder II is even higher than it is for those with bipolar disorder I or major depressive disorder. Patients who also suffer from an anxiety disorder are also at greater risk for suicide. (Rapid cycling, although a more severe variation of bipolar disorder, does not appear to increase the suicide risk in patients with bipolar disorder.)
Many pre- and early adolescent children with bipolar disorder are more severely ill than are adults with the disease, and the risk for suicide is high. They have a higher risk for mixed mania, multiple and frequent cycles, and a long duration of illness without well periods.
Studies suggest that patients with bipolar disorder may have varying degrees of problems with short- and long-term memory, speed of information processing, and mental flexibility. Such problems persist even between episodes. They tend to be more severe when a person has more manic episodes. Medications used for bipolar disorder could be responsible for some of these abnormalities, although some evidence suggests that such traits may have a biologic basis. These mental difficulties may make it harder for these patients to comply with medications or to participate in complex psychotherapies.
A small percentage of bipolar disorder patients demonstrate heightened productivity or creativity during manic phases. More often, however, the distorted thinking and impaired judgment that are characteristic of manic episodes can lead to dangerous behavior, including:
Such behaviors are often followed by low self-esteem and guilt, which are experienced during the depressed phases. During all stages of the illness, patients need to be reminded that the mood disturbance will pass and that its severity can be diminished by treatment.
Cigarette smoking is prevalent among patients with bipolar disorder, particularly those who have frequent or severe psychotic symptoms. Some doctors speculate that, as in schizophrenia, nicotine use may be a form of self-medication because of its specific effects on the brain.
Up to 60% of patients with bipolar disorder abuse other substances (most commonly alcohol, followed by marijuana or cocaine) at some point in the course of their illness.
The following are risk factors for alcoholism and substance abuse in patients with bipolar disorder:
Patients do not manifest their negative behaviors (such as spending sprees or even becoming verbally or physically aggressive) in a vacuum. They have a direct effect on others around them. It is very difficult for even the most loving of families or caregivers to be objective and consistently sympathetic with an individual who periodically and unexpectedly creates chaos around them.
Many patients and their families find it difficult to accept that these episodes are part of an illness and not simply extreme, but normal, characteristics. Such denial is often strengthened by patients who are highly articulate and deliberate, and who can intelligently justify their destructive behavior, not only to others, but also to themselves.
Family members may also feel socially alienated by the fact of having a relative with mental illness, and feel forced to conceal this information from acquaintances.
People with mental illness have a higher incidence of many medical conditions, including heart disease, asthma and other lung problems, gastrointestinal disorders, skin infections, diabetes, hypertension, migraine headaches, hypothyroidism, and cancer. Patients with bipolar disorder are also less likely to receive medical care than people without mental disorders. Substance abuse, including smoking, alcoholism, and drug abuse, also contributes to many of these problems as well as reduced access to care. Medications used for bipolar disorder can also increase the risk for medical problems.
However, people with bipolar disorder and other mental illness have a higher risk for a number of these conditions independent of these factors.
Diabetes. Diabetes is diagnosed almost three times more often in people with bipolar disorder than it is in the general population. Many patients with bipolar disorder are overweight, with about 25% meeting the criteria for obesity. Being overweight is a significant risk factor for diabetes and so it may be the common factor in both diseases. Drugs used to treat bipolar can also cause weight gain and diabetes. Common genetic factors in diabetes and bipolar disorder may cause a rare disorder called Wolfram syndrome and other problems with carbohydrate metabolism.
High Blood Pressure. Patients with bipolar disorder may be at a higher risk for high blood pressure (hypertension) than patients without the disorder. The high prevalence of hypertension among patients with bipolar disorder may also account for their greater risk for illness and death from heart-related conditions.
Migraine Headaches. Migraines are common in patients with a number of mental illnesses, but they are particularly common among patients with bipolar II disorder. Patients with bipolar II suffer from migraine more frequently than patients with bipolar I, suggesting that different biologic factors may be involved with each bipolar form.
Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) is a common side effect of lithium, the standard treatment for bipolar. However, evidence also suggests that patients, particularly women, may be at higher risk for low thyroid levels regardless of which medications they use. Hypothyroidism may, in fact, be a risk factor for bipolar disorder in some patients.
The economic burden of bipolar disorder is significant. It is estimated that the disorder costs the U.S. workplace about $14.1 billion annually in lost productivity, mostly due to poor functioning on the job. According to a 2006 study sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder accounts for twice as much lost productivity as major depressive disorder (MDD), despite the fact that MDD is more prevalent. Each worker with bipolar disorder loses about 66 workdays a year compared with 27 workdays a year for workers with MDD. Research suggests that bipolar disorderâ ' s depressive episodes impair productivity more than its manic episodes.
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