Bipolar Disorder: What Is It and Early Signs

Bipolar Disorder: What Is It and Early Signs
Bipolar Disorder: What Is It and Early Signs

Bipolar disorder affects 1% of adults in Singapore aged between 20 to 40 years.

Associate Professor Chan Herng Nieng, Senior Consultant, Department of Psychiatry, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group, shares what are the causes of bipolar disorder and signs to watch out for. (iStock photo)

It is normal for a person's mood to vary from day to day. But what if the person keeps experiencing extreme mood swings? He or she could be suffering from a bipolar disorder.

"Those with bipolar disorder typically alternate between manic ("high") and depressive ("low") states. They may feel hyper energetic and euphoric one day, and sad and hopeless the next, without any external circumstances explaining the change," explains Assoc Prof Chan.

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What causes bipolar disorder?

The risk of bipolar disorder is higher if a parent or sibling has the disorder. Dysfunction in neurotransmitters like noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine is a possible cause. Imaging studies also show that there are structural and functional changes in the brains of people with bipolar disorder.

Signs of bipolar disorder

People with bipolar disorder may experience distinct manic and depressive episodes or a mixed state with both manic and depressive symptoms. The frequency of these episodes of extreme mood swings can vary from several times a day to once every few months or years.

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  • Mania
    Mania is characterised by intense feelings of elation and excitement. Some people can be extremely energetic, talkative and restless. Others are very driven and fearless, engaging in risky and impulsive activities. Other features include increased distractibility, irritability and insomnia.

  • Depression
    Depression can be mild, moderate or severe in intensity. The person may feel very sad, hopeless, empty, restless and disinterested in activities previously enjoyed. A person suffering from depression may feel extremely tired, have difficulty concentrating or have suicidal thoughts.

"Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, the mood swings can now be better managed with psychotherapy and medications called mood stabilisers," Assoc Prof Chan adds.

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