Bipolar Disorder-The Little We Know

      

Michelangelo Merisi (born c. 1571) known as Caravaggio,  a sufferer of bipolar disorder, shocked  patrons with his intense and life-like paintings of men and women.

 ><                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Understanding Bipolar disorder [BD]–formerly called manic-depressive disorder–is a mood disorder that can cause extreme and uncontrolled swings from dangerous euphoria to incapacitating depression. Although the causes of BD are not clear, emotional, structural and chemical changes in the brain hint at underlying brain areas and mechanisms that contribute to the disorder.

Emotional

Emotions reflect our experience of alterations in the brain’s structure and function. BD causes swings in mood from states of mania to states of depression, resulting in a range of emotional changes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, during manic phases, people can feel full of energy and outgoing, or they can feel jumpy and irritable. On the other extreme, during a depressive phase, people experience feelings of emptiness and hopelessness. In the grip of an extreme episode of mania or depression, patients might experience delusions or hallucinations.

Structural

Bipolar disorder might cause or result from changes in the physical structure of the brain. A study in the February 2004 issue of Bipolar Disorders, research using MRIs of the brains of teen-agers with bipolar disorder found that overall smaller volume of the cerebrum, the brain area responsible for processing sensory information, language and learning and memory among other functions. In addition, the study found that bipolar brains had smaller amygdalas and larger putamens compared to brains of healthy people. In the December 2009 issue of Bipolar Disorder, researchers reported that their review of the literature showed that the structural changes in the brain were present during the first episode of bipolar disorder, suggesting that they cause the disorder rather than result from it.

Chemical

When compared to healthy people, patients with bipolar disorder have different levels of chemical signals called neurotransmitters that allow nerves to communicate with each other. Some levels of hormones, chemical messages made in one tissue that act on another, also change in people with bipolar disorder. Brain levels of opioids as well as neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine and the stress hormone cortisol have all been implicated in mood disorders, including bipolar disorder, according to a May 2008 Science Update by the National Institute of Mental Health. The medications for bipolar disorder such as anti-depressants, anti-convulsants, lithium, benzodiazepams and anti-psychotics attempt to correct the imbalances in neurotransmitters and hormones and smooth out mood. The same principle holds for the use of electroconvulsive therapy[ECT] for bipolar disorder. The passage of an electric current through the brain is thought to reset brain chemistry to a more healthy state.

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(parts of the above article taken from LIVESTRONG)

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Experts do believe that BD, or the predisposition to it,  runs in families, and there is a genetic component to this mood disorder. There is also growing evidence that environment and lifestyle issues have an effect on the disorder’s severity. Stressful life events — or alcohol or drug abuse — can make bipolar disorder more difficult to treat.   As in my mother’s life; her childhood, adolescence and early married life, set her on a course to develop BD II.   [see Letters To Anne Frandi-Coory]

A multitude of controlled studies of bipolar patients and their relatives have shown that BD is hereditary. Perhaps the most convincing data comes from twin studies. In the studies of identical twins with the same genes, scientists report that if one identical twin has bipolar disorder, the other twin has a greater chance of developing bipolar disorder than another sibling in the family. Using statistical data, researchers conclude that the lifetime chance of an identical twin (of a bipolar twin) to also develop BD is about 40% to 70%.

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Paranoia can be a symptom of severe BD.

Many sufferers of BD have heightened levels of creativity, and find taking certain drugs to control the disease, flattens their emotions and blocks their creative talents.   Gifted artists and writers prefer to live with the disorder.

Correct diagnosis of BD  is essential – Sufferers are often mis-diagnosed in the early stages of the disorder, which often leads to more severe symptoms.

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