Myths and misunderstandings about bipolar disorder

Portrayals of bipolar disorder seem to be cropping up everywhere -- in the news, in movies, and on television.

The November 2007 issue of the Harvard Health Letter dispels some myths and misunderstandings about this condition.

Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose, and it often gets confused with other mental illnesses. Because mania is the hallmark of bipolar disorder, the depressive episodes sometimes get overlooked. The Harvard Health Letter notes that people with bipolar disorder typically spend much more time depressed than manic. In fact, years of depression may go by between manic episodes.

The newsletter also reports that the manic episodes of the disease can come in a milder form, called hypomania, which can feel pleasant and imbue a person with exuberance, energy, and optimism. But hypomania may have negative consequences if that confidence leads to excess spending or promiscuity.

Although bipolar disorder is well known for its mood swings, the depressive and manic aspects of the disorder sometimes overlap, making people tense, restless, and despondent at the same time, according to the Harvard Health Letter. This manifestation goes by several names, including mixed state, mixed affective state, and dysphoric mania.

Despite the tricky nature of this disorder, there are reasons to be optimistic, says the Harvard Health Letter. People with bipolar disorder can lead extraordinarily productive and creative (if trying) lives, and many patients today respond well to medication.

Also in this issue: -- Lowering colon cancer risk -- Life expectancy for Americans -- Can switching to smokeless tobacco help smokers? -- Dental bacteria and pneumonia -- Why cholesterol particle size matters -- By the way, doctor: Are giant platelets cause for worry? And, Can I take L-arginine?

The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $28 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/health or by calling 1-877-649-9457 (toll free).

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