#IntensiveBipolarEducation

To establish my background with mental illness, I first have to establish to someone without the knowledge what the mental illness IS. I’ve been clinically diagnosed and treated for Bipolar Disorder type II. I may have been misdiagnosed and actually be type I.

bipolar-manic-episode-fight-the-illumanti

I’ve decided the format for my bipolar posts will be to refer them to informative entries. This will be one of those. That way, I don’t have to be always consumed by thoughts that no one knows what the hell Bipolar Disorder is, and they won’t even look it up anyways. 

Credited to #BrownUniversity in ‘Tags’

Bipolar Disorder (DSM-IV-TR #296.0–296.89)

Bipolar disorder is characterized by the occurrence of at least
one manic or mixed-manic episode during the patient’s
lifetime. Most patients also, at other times, have one or more
depressive episodes. In the intervals between these episodes,
most patients return to their normal state of well-being. Thus
bipolar disorder is a “cyclic” or “periodic” illness, with
patients cycling “up” into a manic or mixed-manic episode,
then returning to normal, and cycling “down” into a
depressive episode from which they likewise eventually more
or less recover.
Bipolar disorder is probably equally common among men
and women and has a lifetime prevalence of from 1.3 to
1.6%.
Bipolar disorder in the past has been referred to as “manic
depressive illness, circular type.” As noted in the introduction
to the chapter on major depression, the term “manic
depressive illness,” at least in the United States, has more and
more come to be used as equivalent to bipolar disorder. As
this convention, however, is not worldwide, the term
“bipolar” may be better, as it clearly indicates that the patient
has an illness characterized by “swings” to the manic “pole”
and generally also to the depressive “pole.”

ONSET
Bipolar disorder may present with either a depressive or a
manic episode, and the peak age of onset for the first episode,
whether depressive or manic, lies in the teens and early
twenties. Earlier onsets may occur; indeed some patients may
have their first episode at 10 years of age or younger. After
the twenties the incidence of first episodes gradually
decreases, with well over 90% of patients having had their
first episode before the age of 50. Onsets as late as the
seventies or eighties have, though very rare, been seen.
Premorbidly, these patients may either be normal or display
mild symptoms for a variable period of time before the first
episode of illness.

CLINICAL FEATURES
The discussion of signs and symptoms proceeds in three
parts: first, a discussion of a manic episode; second, a
discussion of a depressive episode; and, third, a discussion of
a mixed-manic episode.

Manic Episode
The nosology of the various stages of a manic episode has
changed over the decades. In current DSM-IV nomenclature,
hypomanic episodes are separated from the more severe full
manic episodes, which in turn are characterized as either
mild, moderate, severe, or severe with psychotic features.
Kraepelin, however, divided the “manic states” into four
forms—hypomania, acute mania, delusional mania, and
delirious mania—and noted that his observation revealed “the
occurrence of gradual transitions between all the various
states.” In a similar vein, Carlson and Goodwin, in their
elegant paper of 1973, divided a manic episode into “three
stages”: hypomania, or stage I; acute mania, or stage II; and
delirious mania, or stage III. As this “staging” of a manic
episode is very useful from a descriptive and differential
diagnostic point of view, it is used in this chapter. Thus,
when the term “manic episode” is used it may refer to any
one of the three stages of mania: hypomania, acute mania, or
delirious mania.
Manic episodes are often preceded by a prodrome, lasting
from a few days to a few months, of mild and often transitory
and indistinct manic symptoms. At times, however, no
prodromal warning signs may occur, and the episode starts
quite abruptly. When this occurs, patients often
unaccountably wake up during the night full of energy and
vigor—the so-called “manic alert.”
The cardinal symptoms of mania are the following:
heightened mood (either euphoric or irritable); flight of ideas
and pressure of speech; and increased energy, decreased need
for sleep, and hyperactivity. These cardinal symptoms are
most plainly evident in hypomania. In acute mania they
exacerbate and may be joined by delusions and some
fragmentation of behavior, and in delirious mania only
tattered scraps of the cardinal symptoms may be present,
otherwise being obscured by florid and often bizarre
psychotic symptoms. Although all patients experience a
hypomanic stage, and almost all progress to at least a touch
of acute mania, only a minority finally are propelled into
delirious mania. The rapidity with which patients pass from
hypomania through acute mania and on to delirious mania
varies from a week to a few days to as little as a few hours.
Indeed, in such hyperacute onsets, the patient may have
already passed through the hypomanic stage and the acute
manic stage before he is brought to medical attention. The
duration of an entire manic episode varies from the extremes
of as little as a few days or less to many years, and rarely
even to a decade or more. On the average, however, most
first episodes of mania last from several weeks up to 3
months. In the natural course of events, symptoms tend to
gradually subside; after they fade many patients feel guilty
over what they did and perhaps are full of self-reproach.
Most patients are able to recall what happened during
hypomania and acute mania; however, memory is often
spotty for the events of delirious mania. With this brief
general description of a manic episode in mind, what follows
now is a more thorough discussion of each of the three stages
of mania.

Hypomania.
In hypomania the mood is heightened and elevated. Most
often these patients are euphoric, full of jollity and
cheerfulness. Though at times selfish and pompous, their
mood nevertheless is often quite “infectious.” They joke,
make wisecracks and delightful insinuations, and those
around them often get quite caught up in the spirit, always
laughing with the patient, and not at him. Indeed, when
physicians find themselves unable to suppress their own 2
laughter when interviewing a patient, the diagnosis of
hypomania is very likely. Self-esteem and self-confidence are
greatly increased. Inflated with their own grandiosity,
patients may boast of fabulous achievements and lay out
plans for even grander conquests in the future. In a minority
of patients, however, irritability may be the dominant mood.
Patients become demanding, inconsiderate, and intemperate.
They are constantly dissatisfied and intolerant of others, and
brook no opposition. Trifling slights may enrage the patient,
and violent outbursts are not uncommon. At times,
pronounced lability of mood may be evident; otherwise
supremely contented patients may suddenly turn dark,
churlish, and irritable.

In flight of ideas the patient’s train of thought is
characterized by rapid leaps from one topic to another. When
flight of ideas is mild, the connections between the patient’s
successive ideas, though perhaps tenuous, may nonetheless
be “understandable” to the listener. In somewhat higher
grades of flight of ideas, however, the connections may seem
to be illogical and come to depend more on puns and word
plays. This flight of ideas is often accompanied by pressure
of thought. Patients may report that their thoughts race, that
they have too many thoughts, that they run on pell-mell.
Typically, patients also display pressure of speech. Here the
listener is deluged with a torrent of words. Speech may
become imperious, incredibly rapid, and almost unstoppable.
Occasionally, after great urging and with great effort, patients
may be able to keep silent and withhold their speech, but not
for long, and soon the dam bursts once again.
Energy is greatly, even immensely, increased, and patients
feel less and less the need for sleep. They are on the go, busy
and involved throughout the day. They wish to be a part of
life and to be involved more and more in the lives of those
around them. They are strangers to fatigue and are still
hyperactive and ready to go when others must go to bed.
Eventually, the patients themselves may finally go to sleep,
but within a very brief period of time they then awaken,
wide-eyed, and, finding no one else up, they may seek
someone to wake up, or perhaps take a whistling stroll of the
darkened neighborhood, or, if alone, they may spend the
hours before daybreak cleaning out closets or drawers,
catching up on old correspondence, or even paying bills.
In addition to these cardinal symptoms, hypomanic patients
are often extremely distractible. Other conversations and
events, though peripheral to the patients’ present purposes,
are as if glittering jewels that they must attend to, to take as
their own, or simply to admire. In listening to patients, one
may find that a fragment of another conversation has
suddenly been interpolated into their flight of ideas, or they
may stop suddenly and declare their unbounded admiration
for the physician’s clothing, only then again to become one
with the preceding rush of speech.
Hypomanic patients rarely recognize that anything is wrong
with them, and though their judgment is obviously impaired
they have no insight into that condition. Indeed, as far as
hypomanic patients are concerned, the rest of the world is
sick and impaired; if only the rest of the world could feel as
they do and see as clearly as they do, then the rest of the
world would be sure to join them. These patients often enter
into business arrangements with unbounded and completely
uncritical enthusiasm. Ventures are begun, stocks are bought
on a hunch, money is loaned out without collateral, and when
the family fortune is spent, the patient, undaunted, after
perhaps a brief pause, may seek to borrow more money for
yet another prospect. Spending sprees are also typical.
Clothes, furniture, and cars may be bought; the credit card is
pushed to the limit and checks, without any foundation in the
bank, may be written with the utmost alacrity. Excessive
jewelry and flamboyant clothing are especially popular. The
overinvolvement of patients with other people typically leads
to the most injudicious and at times unwelcome
entanglements. Passionate encounters are the rule, and
hypersexuality is not uncommon. Many a female hypomanic
has become pregnant during such escapades. If confronted
with the consequences of their behavior, hypomanic patients
typically take offense, turn perhaps indignantly selfrighteous, or are quick with numerous, more or less plausible
excuses. When hypomanic patients are primarily irritable
rather then euphoric, their demanding, intrusive, and
injudicious behavior often brings them into conflict with
others and with the law.

Acute Mania.
The transition from hypomania to acute mania is marked by a
severe exacerbation of the symptoms seen in hypomania, and
the appearance of delusions. Typically, the delusions are
grandiose: millions of dollars are held in trust for them;
passersby stop and wait in deferential awe as they pass by;
the President will announce their elevation to cabinet rank.
Religious delusions are very common. The patients are
prophets, elected by God for a magnificent, yet hidden,
purpose. They are enthroned; indeed God has made way for
them. Sometimes these grandiose delusions are held
constantly; however, in other cases patients may suddenly
boldly announce their belief, then toss it aside with laughter,
only to announce yet another one. Persecutory delusions may
also appear and are quite common in those who are of a
predominantly irritable mood. The patients’ failures are not
their own but the results of the treachery of colleagues or
family. They are persecuted by those jealous of their
grandeur; they are pilloried, crucified by the enemy.
Terrorists have set a watch on their houses and seek to
destroy them before they can ascend to their thrones.
Occasionally, along with delusions, patients may have
isolated hallucinations. Grandiose patients hear a chorus of
angels singing their praises; the persecuted patients hear the
resentful muttering of the envious crowd.
The mood in acute mania is further heightened and often
quite labile. Domineeringly good-natured one moment, the
patient, if thwarted at all, may erupt into a furious rage of
screaming, swearing, and assaultiveness. Furniture may be
smashed and clothes torn apart. The already irritable patient
may become consistently, and very dangerously, hostile.
Flight of ideas and pressured speech become very intense.
Patients seem unable to cease talking; they may scream,
shout, bellow, sing in a loud voice or preach in a declamatory
fashion to anyone whose ear they can catch.
Hyperactivity becomes more pronounced, and the patient’s
behavior may begin to fragment. Impulses come at cross
purposes, and patients, though increasingly active, may be
unable to complete anything. Fragments of activity abound:
patients may run, hop in place, roll about the floor, leap from
bed to bed, race this way and then that, or repeatedly change
their clothes at a furious pace.
Occasionally, patients in acute mania may evidence a passing
fragment of insight: they may suddenly leap to the tops of 3
tables and proclaim that they are “mad,” then laugh, lose the
thought, and jump back into their pursuits of a moment ago.
Some may devote themselves to writing, flooding reams of
paper with an extravagant handwriting, leaving behind an
almost unintelligible, tangential flight of written ideas.
Patients may dress themselves in the most fantastic ways.
Women may decorate themselves with garlands of flowers
and wear the most seductive of dresses. Men may be
festooned with ribbons and jewelry. Unrestrainable sexuality
may come to the fore. Patients may openly and shamelessly
proposition complete strangers; some may openly and
exultantly masturbate. Strength may be greatly increased, and
sensitivity to pain may be lost.

Delirious Mania.
The transition to delirious mania is marked by the appearance
of confusion, more hallucinations, and a marked
intensification of the symptoms seen in acute mania. A
dreamlike clouding of consciousness may occur. Patients
may mistake where they are and with whom. They cry out
that they are in heaven or in hell, in a palace or in a prison;
those around them have all changed—the physician is an
executioner; fellow patients are secret slaves. Hallucinations,
more commonly auditory than visual, appear momentarily
and then are gone, perhaps only to be replaced by another.
The thunderous voice of God sounds; angels whisper secret
encouragements; the devil boasts at having the patient now;
the patient’s children cry out in despair. Creatures and faces
may appear; lights flash and lightning cracks through the
room. Grandiose and persecutory delusions intensify,
especially the persecutory ones. Bizarre delusions may occur,
including Schneiderian delusions. Electrical currents from the
nurses’ station control the patient; the patient remains in a
telepathic communication with the physician or with the
other patients.
Mood is extremely dysphoric and labile. Though some
patients still are occasionally enthusiastic and jolly,
irritability is generally quite pronounced. There may be
cursing, and swearing; violent threats are made, and if
patients are restrained they may spit on those around them.
Sudden despair and wretched crying may grip the patient,
only to give way in moments to unrestrained laughter.
Flight of ideas becomes extremely intense and fragmented.
Sentences are rarely completed, and speech often consists of
words or short phrases having only the most tenuous
connection with the other. Pressure of speech likewise
increases, and in extreme cases the patient’s speech may
become an incoherent and rapidly changing jumble. Yet even
in the highest grades of incoherence, where associations
become markedly loosened, these patients remain in lively
contact with the world about them. Fragments of nearby
conversations are interpolated into their speech, or they may
make a sudden reference to the physician’s clothing or to a
disturbance somewhere else on the ward.
Hyperactivity is extreme, and behavior disintegrates into
numerous and disparate fragments of purposeful activity.
Patients may agitatedly pace from one wall to the other, jump
to a table top, beat their chest and scream, assault anyone
nearby, pound on the windows, tear the bed sheets, prance,
twitter, or throw off their clothes. Impulsivity may be
extreme, and the patient may unexpectedly commit suicide
by leaping from a window.
Self-control is absolutely lost, and the patient has no insight
and no capacity for it. Attempting to reason with the patient
in delirious mania is fruitless, even assuming that the patient
stays still enough for one to try. The frenzy of these patients
is remarkable to behold and rarely forgotten. Yet in the
height of delirious mania, one may be surprised by the
appearance of a sudden calm. Instantly, the patient may
become mute and immobile, and such a catatonic stupor may
persist from minutes to hours only to give way again to a
storm of activity. Other catatonic signs, such as echolalia and
echopraxia and even waxy flexibility, may also be seen.
As noted earlier not all manic patients pass through all three
stages; indeed some may not progress past a hypomanic state.
Regardless, however, of whether the peak of severity of the
individual patient’s episode is found in hypomania, in acute
mania, or in delirious mania, once that peak has been
reached, a more or less gradual and orderly subsidence of
symptoms occurs, which to a greater or lesser degree retraces
the same symptoms seen in the earlier escalation. Finally,
once the last vestiges of hypomanic symptoms have faded,
the patient is often found full of self-reproach and shame
over what he has done. Some may be reluctant to leave the
hospital for fear of reproach by those they harmed and
offended while they were in the manic episode.
In current nomenclature, those patients whose manic
episodes never pass beyond the stage of hypomania are said
to have “Bipolar II” disorder, in contrast with “Bipolar I”
disorder wherein the mania does escalate beyond the
hypomanic stage. Recent data indicate that bipolar II disorder
may be more common than bipolar I disorder; however,
should a patient with bipolar II disorder ever have a manic
episode wherein stage II or III symptoms occurred, then the
diagnosis would have to be revised to bipolar I.
Occasionally the age of the patient may influence the
presentation of mania. Adolescents and children, for
example, seem particularly prone to the very rapid
development of delirious mania. On the other extreme, in the
elderly, one may see little or no hyperactivity. Some elderly
manic patients may sit in the same chair all day long,
chattering away in an explosive flight of ideas. Mental
retardation may also influence the presentation of mania.
Here in the absence of speech one may see only increased,
seemingly purposeless, activity.

Depressive Episodes
The depressive episodes seen in bipolar disorder, in contrast
to those typically seen in a major depression, tend to come on
fairly acutely, over perhaps a few weeks, and often occur
without any significant precipitating factors. They tend to be
characterized by psychomotor retardation, hyperphagia, and
hypersomnolence and are not uncommonly accompanied by
delusions or hallucinations. On the average, untreated, these
bipolar depressions tend to last about a half year.
Mood is depressed and often irritable. The patients are
discontented and fault-finding and may even come to loathe
not only themselves but also everyone around them.
Energy is lacking; patients may feel apathetic or at times
weighted down. 4
Thought becomes sluggish and slow. Patients cannot
concentrate to read and cannot remember what they do read.
Comprehending alternatives and bringing themselves to
decisions may be impossible.
Patients may lose interest in life; things appear dull and
heavy and have no attraction.
Many patients feel a greatly increased need for sleep. Some
may succumb and sleep 10, 14, or 18 hours a day. Yet no
matter how much sleep they get, they awake exhausted, as if
they had not slept at all. Appetite may also be increased and
weight gain may occur, occasionally to an amazing degree.
Conversely, some patients may experience insomnia or loss
of appetite.
Psychomotor retardation is the rule, although some patients
may show agitation. In psychomotor retardation the patient
may lie in bed or sit in the chair for hours, perhaps all day,
profoundly apathetic and scarcely moving at all. Speech is
rare; if a sentence is begun, it may die in the speaking of it, as
if the patient had not the energy to bring it to conclusion. At
times the facial expression may become tense and pained, as
if the patient were under some great inner constraint.
Pessimism and bleak despair permeate these patients’
outlooks. Guilt abounds, and on surveying their lives patients
find themselves the worst of failures, the greatest of sinners.
Effort appears futile, and enterprises begun in the past may
be abandoned. They may have recurrent thoughts of suicide,
and impulsive suicide attempts may occur.
Delusions of guilt and of well-deserved punishment and
persecution are common. Patients may believe that they have
let children starve, murdered their spouses, poisoned the
wells. Unspeakable punishments are carried out: their eyes
are gouged out; they are slowly hung from the gallows; they
have contracted syphilis or AIDS, and these are a just
punishment for their sins.
Hallucinations may also appear and may be quite fantastic.
Heads float through the air; the soup boils black with blood.
Auditory hallucinations are more common, and patients may
hear the heavenly court pronounce judgment. Foul odors may
be smelled, and poison may be tasted in the food.
In general a depressive episode in bipolar disorder subsides
gradually. Occasionally, however, it may come to an abrupt
termination. A patient may arise one morning, after months
of suffering, and announce a complete return to fitness and
vitality. In such cases, a manic episode is likely to soon
follow.

Mixed-Manic Episode
Mixed-manic episodes are not as common as manic episodes
or depressive episodes, but tend to last longer. Here one sees
various admixtures of manic and depressive symptoms,
sometimes in sequence, sometimes simultaneously. Euphoric
patients, hyperactive and pressured in speech, may suddenly
plunge into despair and collapse weeping into chairs, only to
rise again within hours to their former elated state. Even
more extraordinary, patients may be weeping uncontrollably,
with a look of unutterable despair on their faces, yet say that
they are elated, that they never felt so well in their lives, and
then go on to execute a lively dance, all the while with tears
still streaming down their faces. Or a depressed and
psychomotorically retarded patient may consistently dress in
the brightest of clothes, showing a fixed smile on an
otherwise expressionless face. These mixed-manic episodes
must be distinguished from the transitional periods that may
appear in patients who “cycle” directly from a manic into a
depressive episode, or vice versa, without any intervening
euthymic interval. These transitional periods are often
marked by an admixture of both manic and depressive
symptoms; however, they do not “stand alone” as episodes of
illness unto themselves, but are always both immediately
preceded and followed by a more typical episode of
homogenous manic or homogenous depressive symptoms. In
contrast the mixed-manic episode “stands alone.” It starts
with mixed symptoms, endures with them, and finishes with
them, and is neither immediately preceded nor immediately
followed by an episode of mania or by an episode of
depression.
At this point, before proceeding to a consideration of course,
two other disorders that are strongly associated with bipolar
disorder should be mentioned, namely alcoholism and
cocaine addiction. During manic episodes, patients with these
addictions are especially likely to take cocaine or drink even
more heavily, and the effects of these substances may cloud
the clinical picture.

COURSE
Bipolar disorder is an episodic or, as noted earlier, “cyclical”
illness, being characterized in most patients by the
intermittent lifelong appearance of episodes of illness, in
between which most patients experience a “euthymic”
interval during which they more or less return to their normal
state of health.
The pattern and sequencing of successive episodes is quite
variable among patients. The duration of the euthymic
interval varies from as little as a few weeks or days to as long
as years, or even decades. In contrast, however, to the
extreme variability of the euthymic intervals among patients,
finding a certain regular pattern in the history of any given
patient is not unusual. Indeed in some patients the euthymic
interval is so regular that patients can predict sometimes to
the month when the next episode will occur. The postpartum
period is a time of increased risk. Occasionally, one may also
see a “seasonal” pattern, with manic episodes more likely in
the spring or early summer and depressive ones in the fall or
winter.
Early on in the overall course of the illness the cycle length,
or time from the onset of one episode to the onset of the next,
tends to shorten. Specifically, whereas the duration of the
episodes themselves tends to be stable, the euthymic interval
shortens, so episodes come progressively closer together.
With time, however, the duration of the euthymic interval
stabilizes.
Patients who have four or more episodes of illness in any one
year are customarily referred to as “rapid cyclers.” Although
only about 10% of all patients with bipolar disorder display
such a pattern of rapid cycling, these patients are nevertheless
clinically quite important as they tend to be relatively
“resistant” to many currently available treatments. On the
other extreme, the euthymic interval may be so long, lasting
many decades, that the patient dies before the second episode 5
is “due,” thereby having only one episode of illness during an
entire lifespan.
The sequence of episodes is also quite variable among
patients. Rarely would one find a patient whose course is
characterized by regularly alternating manic and depressive
episodes; most patients show a preponderance of either
depressive episodes or of manic ones. For example, in an
extreme case a patient may have throughout life perhaps six
depressive episodes and only one manic one. On the other
extreme, another patient might have up to a dozen episodes
of mania and only one depressive one. Indeed one may
encounter a patient who has only manic episodes and never
any depressive ones. Such “unipolar manic” patients are very
rare. In general, a depressive preponderance is more common
in females, and a manic one in males.
As noted earlier, for most patients the interval between
episodes is euthymic and free of symptoms. In at least a
quarter of all cases, however, the interval may be “colored”
by very mild symptoms, and the direction of this “coloring,”
or its “polarity,” correlates with the preponderance of
episodes. For example, a patient with very mild
subhypomanic symptoms during the interval is likely to have
more manic episodes than depressive ones, and the converse
holds true for the patients whose interval is clouded with
mild depression or fatigue. In general, among women the
preponderance of episodes are depressive; among men,
manic.

In perhaps a quarter of all cases, the course exhibits
“coupling.” Here a manic episode may invariably and
immediately be followed by a depressive one, or vice versa.
In such cases the transition from one episode to the next may
be marked by a mixture of symptoms, as if the various
symptoms of the preceding episode trailed off at different
rates, while the various symptoms of the following episode
appeared also at varying rates, such that the two coupled
episodes in a sense overlapped and interdigitated with each
other, with this interdigitation presenting as the mixture of
symptoms. Such “overlap” or transitional experiences must,
as noted earlier, be distinguished from mixed-manic episodes
proper, which stand on their own.
Occasionally, one may find bipolar patients in whom certain
conditions, pharmacologic and otherwise, can more or less
reliably precipitate a manic episode. These include
serotoninergic agents such as tryptophan or 5-
hydroxytryptophan; noradrenergic agents, such as cocaine,
stimulants, or sympathomimetics, or situations in which
noradrenergic tone is increased as in alcohol or sedativehypnotic withdrawal or in the abrupt discontinuation of longterm treatment with clonidine; dopaminergic agents such as
L-dopa or bromocriptine; and treatment with exogenous
steroids, such as prednisone. Older antidepressants, such as
the MAOIs and tricyclics, are particularly notorious for
precipitating manic episodes in bipolar patients, and some
evidence suggests that these antidepressants, in addition to
being capable of precipitating a manic episode, may also alter
the fundamental course of bipolar disorder and increase the
frequency with which future episodes occur: newer
antidepressants, such as SSRIs, bupropion and venlafaxine,
do not appear as likely to precipitate mania. Phototherapy
may also induce manic episodes in those patients whose
course exhibits a “seasonal pattern.”

COMPLICATIONS
In mania, spending sprees and ill-advised business ventures
may land patients in serious debt, or even bankruptcy.
Hypersexuality may lead to unplanned and unwanted
pregnancies or ill-considered marriages. A reckless
exuberance may carry the patient past all speed limits and
into conflict with the law; accidents are common. Irritable
manics are likewise often in conflict with the law and may
pick fights and create disputes with whomever they come in
contact. Friendships may be broken, and divorce may occur.
Suicide occurs in from 10 to 20% of patients with bipolar
disorder and appears to be more common in those who have
only hypomanic episodes (i.e., those with bipolar II disorder)
than in those whose manic episodes progress beyond the first
stage (i.e., those with bipolar I disorder). Although most
suicides appear to occur during episodes of depression,
patients in a mixed-manic episode may be at an even higher
risk.
The complications of a depressive episode are as outlined in
the chapter on major depression.

ETIOLOGY
Genetic factors almost certainly play a role in bipolar
disorder. A higher prevalence of bipolar disorder exists
among the first-degree relatives of patients with bipolar
disorder than among the relatives of controls or the relatives
of patients with major depression, and the concordance rate
among monozygotic twins is significantly higher than that
among dizygotic twins. Similarly and most tellingly,
adoption studies have demonstrated that the prevalence of
bipolar disorder is several-fold higher among the biologic
parents of bipolar patients than among the biologic parents of
control adoptees.
Genetic studies in bipolar disorder have been plagued by
failures of replication. In all likelihood, multiple genes on
multiple different chromosomes are involved, each
conferring a susceptibility to the disease.
Autopsy studies, likewise, have often yielded inconsistent
results. Perhaps the most promising finding is of a reduced
neuronal number in the locus ceruleus and median raphe
nucleus.
Endocrinologic studies have yielded robust findings, similar
to those found in major depression, including nonsuppression on the dexamethasone suppression test and a
blunted TSH response to TRH infusion.
Other robust findings include a shortened latency to REM
sleep upon infusion of arecoline and the remarkable ability of
intravenous physostigmine to not only bring patients out of
mania but also to cast them down past their baseline and into
a depression.
Taken together, these findings are consistent with the notion
that bipolar disorder is, in large part, an inherited disorder
characterized by episodic perturbations in endocrinologic,
noradrenergic, serotoninergic and cholinergic function, with
these in turn possibly being related to subtle microanatomic
changes in relevant brainstem structures.

6
DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS
In distinguishing bipolar disorder from other disorders, the
single most useful differential feature is the course of the
illness. Essentially no other disorder left untreated presents
with recurrent episodes of mood disturbance at least one of
which is a manic episode, with more or less full restitution to
normal functioning between episodes. Thus if the patient in
question has had previous episodes and if the available
history is complete, then one can generally state with
certainty whether the patient has bipolar disorder. However,
these are two big “ifs,” and in clinical practice history may
either be absent or unobtainable, and herein arises diagnostic
difficulty.

Occasionally a patient in a manic episode is brought to the
emergency room by police with no other history except that
he was arrested for disturbing the peace. If the patient is in
the stage of acute mania with perhaps irritability and
delusions of persecution, one might wonder if the patient is
currently in the midst of the onset of paranoid schizophrenia
or of its exacerbation. Here the behavior of the patient when
left undisturbed is helpful: left to themselves, patients with
paranoid schizophrenia often sit quietly, patiently waiting for
the next assault, whereas patients with acute mania continue
to display their hyperactivity and pressured speech. If the
patient is in the stage of delirious mania, the differential
would include an acute exacerbation of catatonic
schizophrenia and also a delirium from some other cause.
The quality of the hyperactivity seen in the excited subtype
of catatonic schizophrenia is different from that seen in
mania. The catatonic schizophrenic, no matter how frenzied,
remains self-involved and has little contact with those around
him. By contrast, manic patients, no matter how fragmented
their behavior, show a desire and a compelling interest to be
involved with others. In the highest grade of delirious mania,
the patient, as noted earlier, may lapse into a confusional
stupor. At this point, the differential becomes very wide, as
discussed in the chapter on delirium. At times, a “crosssectional” view of the patient, say in the emergency room,
may allow an accurate diagnosis; however, a “longitudinal”
view is always more helpful. As noted earlier, all patients in
delirious mania or acute mania have already passed from
relatively normal functioning through the distinctive stage of
mania. Obtaining a history of this progression from normal
through and past stage I hypomania allows for a more certain
diagnosis.

The distinction between secondary mania and a manic
episode of bipolar disorder is discussed in that chapter.
At times patients with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type,
may be very difficult to distinguish from those with bipolar
disorder. Here a precise interval history is absolutely
necessary. In schizoaffective disorder psychotic symptoms,
such as delusions, hallucinations, or incoherence, persist
between the episodes, in contrast to the “free” intervals seen
in bipolar disorder. The interval psychotic symptoms seen in
schizoaffective disorder may be very mild indeed, and thus
close and repeated observation over extended periods of time
may be required to ascertain their presence.
Cyclothymia may at times present diagnostic difficulty, for it
also presents a history of discrete individual episodes. The
difference is that in cyclothymia the manic symptoms are
very mild. The possibility also exists, however, that the
apparently cyclothymic patient is presenting, in fact, with a
very long prodrome to bipolar disorder. Thus continued
observation over many years may necessitate a diagnostic
revision if a manic episode should ever occur.
The differential between a postpartum psychosis and a
bipolar disorder that has become “entrained” to the
postpartum period is discussed in that chapter.
The persistence of very mild affective symptoms between
episodes might suggest, depending on the polarity of the
symptoms, a diagnosis of dysthymia or of hyperthymia. Here,
however, temporal continuity of these symptoms with a full
episode of illness betrays their true nature, that of either a
prodrome or of a condition of only partial remission of a
prior episode.
The distinction between a depressive episode occurring as
part of a major depression and one occurring as part of
bipolar disorder is considered in the chapter on major
depression.

TREATMENT
The overall treatment of bipolar disorder is conveniently
approached by considering, in turn, the treatment of the
manic or mixed-manic episode first, then the treatment of the
depressive episode, in each instance considering three phases
of treatment: acute, continuation, and preventive. As will be
seen, of all the medications useful in bipolar disorder, lithium
is probably the best choice as it is the only one which has
been shown to be effective for all three phases of treatment
for both manic and depressive episodes.

Manic or Mixed-Manic Episodes
Acute Treatment.
The acute treatment of a manic or mixed-manic episode
almost always involves the administration of either a mood
stabilizer (i.e., lithium, valproate or carbamazepine) or an
antipsychotic (i.e., olanzapine, risperidone, aripiprazole,
quetiapine or ziprasidone), or most commonly, a combination
of a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic. Although there are
no hard and fast rules for choosing among these agents, some
general guidelines may be offered. Certainly, if the patient
has a history of an excellent response to a particular agent,
then it should be seriously considered. Lacking such a
history, and assuming there are no significant
contraindications, the first choice among the mood stabilizers
is probably lithium, as it has the longest track record.
Divalproex is a close second, and, in the case of episodes
with a significant depressive component, and certainly in the
case of a mixed-manic episode, is actually superior to
lithium. Another advantage of divalproex is the rapidity with
which it becomes effective when a “loading” strategy is used,
with patients often responding in a matter of days, in contrast
with the week or two required with lithium. Carbamazepine
is probably a little less effective than lithium, and, in general,
is not as well-tolerated. Among the antipsychotics, the first
choice is probably olanzapine in that it has the longest track
record among these second generation agents in this regard
and has also, in contrast with the other second generation
agents, been shown to be effective in preventive treatment. 7
When symptoms are relatively mild, that is to say of
hypomanic intensity, utilization of a mood stabilizer alone
may be sufficient. However, when the mania has escalated
into stage II or III, a mood stabilizer alone is generally not
capable of controlling the clinical storm quickly enough, and
in such cases it is common practice to initiate treatment with
a combination of a mood stabilizer and one of the secondgeneration antipsychotics. In emergent situations, one may
also employ one of the protocols outlined in the chapter on
rapid pharmacologic treatment of agitation. Consideration
should also be given to ECT: bilateral ECT is effective for
mania and is indicated when the foregoing treatments are not
successful or in life-threatening situations where urgent
improvement is absolutely required. Should ECT be utilized,
lithium should not be administered concurrently, as it may
enhance ECT-induced confusion.

Many manic patients require admission to a locked unit.
Stimulation, including visitors, mail, and phone calls, should
be kept to an absolute minimum, as it routinely exacerbates
manic symptoms. Indeed, occasional patients in acute mania,
still possessed of a few tattered shreds of insight, may
demand to be put in seclusion. Isolated from all stimuli, they
gradually improve, although their symptoms only partially
abate. A calm, patient, and nonconfrontive manner is
generally best; sometimes sharing the patient’s jokes may be
calming and helpful in enlisting cooperation. At times,
however, a “show of force” may be necessary; indeed
violent, irritable, and very agitated patients, though
completely unfazed by routine measures, may calm down
immediately upon the appearance of several formidable male
orderlies, who, though calm, clearly “mean business.”
Restraints, however, may be required.

Continuation Treatment.
Once acute treatment has been successful in bringing the
manic symptoms under control, continuation treatment is
begun. As noted earlier the average duration of the first
manic episode is about 3 months, and that of a mixed-manic
episode a little longer. The purpose of continuation treatment
is to prevent a breakthrough of symptoms until such time as
the episode itself has run its course. Generally this is
accomplished by continuing the regimen that was effective
during the acute phase. If lithium is used it may be necessary
during the continuation phase to reduce the dose. In many
patients even though the dose of lithium is held constant, the
blood level rises when the manic symptoms eventually come
under complete control. The unexpected appearance of side
effects to lithium may indicate this and should prompt a
blood level determination. If ECT were used, a mood
stabilizer should be started after treatment is terminated.
If the patient decides not to enter into a preventive phase of
treatment, one must estimate when the patient’s current
episode, in all likelihood, will go into a spontaneous
remission. A prior history of manic episodes may provide
some guidance here; if that is lacking, one is guided by the
duration of an average episode, mentioned earlier. Clearly, if
the patient is having breakthrough manic symptoms, no
matter how mild, treatment should continue. Furthermore,
even when the estimated date of remission has passed, one
should continue treatment if the patient’s life is unstable, and
wait until a period of relative stability has occurred before
exposing the patient to the risk, however small, of relapse. If
lithium was utilized, it is important to taper the dose over a
few weeks time, as it appears that abrupt discontinuation of
lithium predisposes to a recurrence of mania. Although the
need for tapering has not been demonstrated for the other
agents, prudence dictates the use of a gradual taper here also.

Preventive Treatment.
The decision to embark on preventive treatment is based on
several factors including the following: frequency of
episodes, severity of episodes, rapidity with which episodes
develop, and side effects of the agent used. Frequent
episodes, perhaps occurring more than once every 2 years,
usually constitute an indication for preventive treatment; a
frequency of one every 5 or 10 years, however, may be such
that the risk to the patient of another episode is outweighed
by the trouble of taking medicine and any attendant side
effects. Severe episodes, however, no matter how infrequent,
may warrant prevention. Whereas the patient’s employer and
family may be able to tolerate a manic episode limited to a
hypomanic stage, a mania that enters a delirious stage is
usually so destructive that it should be guarded against.
Patients whose episodes tend to develop very slowly, over
perhaps weeks or a month, may be able to “catch” themselves
before their insight and judgment are lost. By making timely
application for treatment, they may be able to bring the
episode under control on an outpatient basis. Those whose
episodes come on acutely over a few days or even hours,
however, are defenseless and thus more appropriate for
preventive treatment.

If preventive treatment is elected, then the patient should be
treated with a mood stabilizer (lithium, divalproex or
carbamazepine) or olanzapine. Among the mood stabilizers,
lithium has the longest track record and is therefore a
reasonable first choice. Divalproex and carbamazepine may
also be considered; however, the data supporting the use of
divalproex as a preventive agent are not that good and
carbamazepine is generally not very well tolerated. If lithium
is used, it is important to keep the serum level between 0.6
and 1.0 mEq/L. The optimum dose for valproate and for
carbamazepine for prophylaxis has not as yet been
determined; prudence suggests using a dose similar to that
which was effective for continuation treatment. When
“breakthrough” symptoms of mania occur it is imperative to
determine the patient’s thyroid status: hypothyroidism, even
if manifest by only a slight rise in TSH, will blunt the
response to any mood stabilizer, and must be corrected.
When breakthrough mania occurs despite normal thyroid
status and good compliance, consideration may be given to
switching to monotherapy with another mood stabilizer or to
using a combination of mood stabilizers such as lithium plus
divalproex or lithium plus carbamazepine. Given the
possibility of such “breakthrough” manias, it is generally
prudent, in the case of reliable patients being maintained on a
mood stabilizer, to prescribe a supply of adjunctive
medication (e.g., olanzapine) to take at home in order to abort
an episode and obviate the need for admission. In this regard,
outpatients should be clearly instructed to call the physician
should they even experience a “hint” of manic symptoms.
Olanzapine has recently been shown to be effective in
preventive treatment, and thus may be considered as an
alternative to a mood stabilizer. It must be borne in mind,
however, that, as compared with the mood stabilizers,
especially lithium, the experience with olanzapine is limited;
furthermore, emerging data regarding the risks of diabetes
and hyperlipidemia with olanzapine may also temper
enthusiasm for the long-term use of this agent.
As noted in the section on course, various pharmacologic
conditions, such as the use of sympathomimetics, the abrupt 8
discontinuation of long-term treatment with clonidine, and
the like, may precipitate manic episodes, and these conditions
should be avoided whenever possible. Furthermore, as noted
earlier, insomnia, or simply voluntarily going without sleep,
may also precipitate a manic episode, and consequently, good
sleep hygiene should be promoted.
Recently it has been shown that cognitive behavioral therapy
may, when used in conjunction with preventive
pharmacologic treatment, reduce the frequency of
breakthrough episodes. The mechanism here is not clear, and
it also must be kept in mind that no form of psychotherapy is
effective for either acute or continuation treatment of mania.

Depressive Episodes
Acute Treatment.
When a depressive episode occurs in a patient with bipolar
disorder the first step in the acute phase of treatment is to
ensure that the patient is taking an antimanic drug, such as
lithium, valproate, or carbamazepine, in a dose that would be
effective in the acute treatment phase of mania. If the
depression is not severe, one may want to wait 2 or 3 weeks
to see if the depressive symptoms begin to clear, as this may
often happen when one of these three agents is used. When
depressive symptoms persist or when they are so severe to
begin with that one cannot wait, one may add an
antidepressant or consider adding lamotrigine or perhaps
topiramate. Traditionally an antidepressant has been used;
however, though effective, all the antidepressants entail the
risk of precipitating a manic episode; a strategy for choosing
and utilizing an antidepressant is discussed in the chapter on
major depression. Neither lamotrigine nor topiramate carry a
risk of inducing a manic episode, and between the two, the
evidence for the effectiveness of lamotrigine is much
stronger. In mild cases of depression, one may also consider
the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Continuation Treatment.
Once the depressive symptoms are relieved, treatment should
be continued until the patient has been asymptomatic for a
significant period of time. If an antidepressant were added to
a mood stabilizer, one should probably consider
discontinuing the antidepressant after the patient has been
asymptomatic for a matter of months. Given the ongoing risk
of a “precipitated” mania, it is preferable to discontinue the
drug as soon as possible: if depressive symptoms recur, one
may always restart it. In the case of topiramate or
lamotrigine, the optimum duration of continuation treatment
is not clear. Prudence suggests that if one knows, from
history, how long the patient’s depressive episodes tend to
last, that treatment be continued somewhat past the expected
date of spontaneous remission of the depression.

Preventive Treatment.
Lithium, carbamazepine and lamotrigine are all effective in
preventing future depressive episodes. Preventive treatment
with antidepressants in bipolar disorder is generally not
justified, given the ongoing risk of precipitating a manic
episode.

Other Treatment Considerations
Pregnancy.
Pregnancy constitutes a special challenge in the treatment of
bipolar disorder. None of the mood stabilizers are safe during
pregnancy (especially the first trimester). First generation
antipsychotics, such as haloperidol, are probably less
teratogenic; the teratogenic potential of olanzapine is not as
yet clear. If mania does occur during pregnancy, then the
risks to the fetus must be carefully weighed against the risks
inherent in a manic episode. ECT should be carefully
considered given that, with proper anesthetic technique, it is
of low risk to the fetus.

Bipolar women currently in the preventive phase of treatment
may often be safely managed into and through a planned
pregnancy. Preventive treatment may be continued up to a
few days before conception is attempted. If conception does
not occur, preventive treatment is restarted and continued
until the couple again wishes to conceive. Once conception
does occur, preventive treatment is withheld, to be restarted
immediately upon delivery; indeed, barring obstetric
complications, it should be restarted within hours. In
collaboration with the obstetrician, adjunctive treatment is
then made available should manic symptoms appear. In cases
where the risk of a relapse of mania is high and outweighs
the risk to the fetus, one may consider restarting a mood
stabilizer after the first trimester. With regard to breast
feeding, no firm advice can be given: although maternal use
of lithium, valproate and carbamazepine have all been rarely
associated with adverse effects in breast-fed infants, large,
controlled studies are lacking. Consequently the decision to
breast feed or not should be made in light of the entire
clinical picture, including the mother’s illness and response
to treatment.

One thought on “#IntensiveBipolarEducation

  1. Pingback: #TodaysBipolarStruggle | Bipolar Barbie-Q

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