In bipolar disorder (or manic depressive disorder), as in major depressive disorder, there is a basic disturbance in the background emotionaltone we call mood. Unlike people withmajor depression(or unipolar disorder), bipolar patients have a variable pattern of depressed and manic episodes.
Mania is the opposite ofdepression: exuberance, exalted mood,rapidity ofspeech (flight of ideas), expansiveness,grandiosity, hyperactivity, impulsivity, and poorjudgment (whichcan lead to spending sprees). Delusions andhallucinations can occur. Untreated maniacan wreakhavoc witha person's life because of the great energy devoted to creating all sorts of complications. Bipolar disorder has strong familial tendencies and begins anywhere from childhood (rarely) to age 50 with an average age of onsetaround30.
In 1949, Dr. JohnCade, an Australian psychiatrist, found lithium to be an effective treatment of mania. In the years that followed, lithium has become the mainstay of treatment for bipolar disorder. A steady regimen of lithium is taken to prevent manic and depressed episodes. Blood levels need to be checked periodically to avoid toxic levels. Sometimes otherdrugs suchas the antiseizure drugs valproic acid and carbamazapine are used. With modernpharmacologic treatment, many bipolar sufferers can live quite normal and productive lives, completely or relatively free of disruptive, whipsawing moodswings.