If you or a family member has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, we know you have questions. The good news is you don’t have to search for information alone. At the office of Melissa Lopez-Larson, MD, in Park City, UT, we not only have answers, but we also want to help you manage symptoms in the most beneficial way possible.
Can Bipolar Go Away?
After receiving a bipolar disorder (BD) diagnosis, you want an answer to one pressing question: does it ever goes away? Although treatment can help to substantially reduce the intensity of manic and depressive episodes, trying to make BD depart is like trying to push thoughts out of your head. Bipolar is typically a lifetime diagnosis, and success in managing comes with managing episodes.
Dissecting the Causes
The best way to understand the lifelong challenges posed by BD is to recognize its underlying causes. But this is where things get a little confusing because no specific culprit has yet been identified. Many believe it is the result of combined environmental and biological influences. A genetic component also exists; if your immediate family member, such as a parent or sibling, received a BD diagnosis, you’re at greater risk as well.
Additional causes that can induce BD symptoms include periods of great stress or trauma and drug and alcohol abuse. You see how a variety of different factors makes it difficult to pinpoint one. And because BD is neither purely physiological nor confined to the mind, the most beneficial treatment approach is one that employs several different modalities. This allows us to tackle the disorder’s multi-faceted nature.
The Onset of BD Symptoms
Tendencies can appear in early adolescence, teenage years, or even further down the road in young adulthood. It can, however, be difficult to make a definitive diagnosis because many of the symptoms of BD mimic the signs of natural hormone fluctuations that also occur during these years. Another complication arises as negative symptoms seem to disappear or at least get better for long windows of time.
With so many different moving parts, BD usually is not diagnosed until later in life, at which point it’s manifested into a more acute disorder. Many patients try to grapple with their episodes – unsure of what’s wrong and equally confused by their own minds. They seek treatment only after their mood fluctuations have significantly increased in both frequency and intensity.
Age and Its Effects
By addressing symptoms early, we’re able to effectively minimize manic and depressive episodes. In addition, recognizing mood patterns can help identify triggers and anticipate episodes. Seen from this perspective, age can help improve BD symptoms because it brings awareness.
Many patients, however, seek treatment later in life as symptoms get worse. The longer a person waits to receive treatment, the greater the impact on their lives. Mood fluctuations may, at first, seem normal. But as the highs and lows become more extreme, the more control they wield over an individual. And in a “high” period, patients often become convinced they’re better and don’t need help.
Do All BD Patients Need Treatment?
Treatment can dramatically improve patients’ lives, including those diagnosed with the most severe forms of BD. While some people might learn to manage bipolar episodes without professional help, it’s hard to determine if they achieve a state of well-being or truly improve. Treatment is the only measurable way to manage mood fluctuations and reduce the impacts on daily living.
One of the most important aspects of treatment is sticking with it. Many patients experience setbacks during a manic episode (high), believing they’re cured and no longer need intervention. They then stop taking medication, attending therapy, or continuing with other recommendations and trigger a state of depression.
Exploring the Highs and Lows
It’s not uncommon for patients to think the euphoria that accompanies manic and hypomanic episodes balances the lows experienced during depressive states. In fact, a manic episode is often associated with many positive emotions, including:
- A boost in confidence
- Increased social engagement
- More energy
- Higher productivity
To further illustrate the differences between these two extremes, manic episodes often bring the false belief that a patient has a great deal of money, is famous, or possesses special powers. A depressive episode, on the other hand, can lead people to believe they are penniless, financially ruined, or facing an unrecognized serious illness.
Here’s the Truth
Even with the positive emotions that a manic state can bring, the adverse effects are far more significant. A depressive episode can harm a patient’s career, life satisfaction, and personal relationships. These factors underscore the need for a personalized treatment plan that can strike a balance between high and low extremes.
A Few Treatment Options
Many people immediately think of medications when envisioning treatment options for BD. But alternatives can and should be explored, especially for patients who haven’t gained relief from and/or don’t want to take medications. Alternative options can likewise be considered for those who want a more holistic approach to treatment.
One such therapy is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), proven by research to be both safe and effective in treating patients with BD. A study of particular note showed TMS can improve cognition in depressed patients with bipolar.
So, what is TMS? A non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to revive nerve cells in the brain connected to anxiety and mood. It’s important to understand that studies suggest the brains of people with BD may be different from those of people who do not have a mental disorder. With this knowledge in mind, TMS-induced stimulation may change brain activity and improve mood.
It’s not surprising that patients want to incorporate nutritional supplements into their regimen for treating BD. Natural products are often more consistent with peoples’ beliefs about health and life. Some see supplements as a safe augmentation strategy, while others hope that, because supplements are natural, they can replace a regimen of prescription medications.
Studies confirm that among essential minerals and vitamins, omega-3-fatty acids show great promise for helping to ease the symptoms of BD. Other supplements that may prove effective include vitamin C, folic acid, and choline. Folic acid in particular can prevent birth defects and potentially reduce the effects of BD in children.
Support Programs for Family Members
One of the most overlooked yet beneficial ways to successfully help patients with BD is to support their friends and family members. People with BD fare better when they can turn to those around them for help. They have milder symptoms, experience fewer manic and depressive episodes, and recover more quickly.
This type of support also benefits family members themselves, providing strategies to deal with mental health issues and offering a safe place to speak openly. Caregivers face no small task when a loved one has BD, and equipping them with self-care tips can ease common feelings of frustration and anxiety.
Focusing on Overall Health and Wellbeing
Earlier we mentioned that BD is not an isolated disorder, meaning it involves more than the brain. This lends credence to the fact that overall health must be considered to better relieve symptoms. Simple tactics like breathing and meditation can reduce stress and help patients manage their moods. Meditation can also:
- Help lower blood pressure
- Relieve anxiety
- Promote positive thoughts
- Decrease symptoms of depression
Likewise, in a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), deep breathing was found to reduce anxiety levels in patients with BD. Because it has no negative side effects and can be easily done, this technique is useful for all patients of all ages, whether at home, work, school, or social engagements.
Hope Is in Sight
Although BD does not “go away,” it can be managed to ease symptoms, relieve mood swings, and improve quality of life. The key is in finding the treatment plan that works best for your needs, which we’re committed to doing. Schedule your consultation today by calling the office of Melissa Lopez-Larson, MD, in Park City, UT.