Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes wide fluctuations in mood and energy levels. Symptoms of this disorder can appear at any age, but most people experience symptoms beginning in their late teens or early adolescence.
While everyone experiences mood swings at times, a person with bipolar disorder experiences extreme differences in mood that can affect their ability to think clearly and can interfere with their day-to-day life. It’s common for a person with bipolar disorder to wonder what will happen in the future, such as whether their symptoms will get worse with age and whether there is any hope of eventually coming off medication.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The severity of symptoms of bipolar can vary from one person to another. Mood swings include episodes of both mania and depression, which may occur in rapid sequence or may seem to go away for a period of time, sometimes for months or years.
Mania is a hallmark symptom of bipolar disorder, and a person must experience at least one episode of mania or hypomania in order to be diagnosed with this condition. Hypomania is a less intense form of mania. Symptoms of mania include:
Decreased need for sleep
Sense of euphoria or exaggerated self-confidence
One or more episodes of mania may alternate with periods of depression, which include a lack of energy and loss of interest in activities. During a major depressive episode, a person may sleep too much, be unable to concentrate, and may consider suicide.
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
It can be difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder because its symptoms sometimes resemble other conditions. For example, a person experiencing mania or hypomania can feel happy and energetic but may only tell their doctor about depressive episodes, leading to a misdiagnosis of depression. Additionally, mania can sometimes lead to psychotic episodes, which can trigger a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder won’t go away on their own, but treatment can help individuals get their symptoms under control. Early identification of symptoms allows a person with bipolar disorder the opportunity to seek treatment, which usually includes both medication and various types of psychotherapy. While bipolar disorder can’t be cured, symptoms can be controlled with an effective treatment plan.
Untreated Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder may worsen with age or over time if the condition is left untreated. As time goes on, a person may experience episodes that are more severe and more frequent than when symptoms first appeared. The longer the symptoms continue without treatment, the more likely a person is to experience problems in personal relationships or daily responsibilities.
Refusing to believe that treatment is necessary can also lead to the worsening of symptoms. It’s not uncommon for a person with bipolar disorder to believe they’re cured if their symptoms start to improve. They may attempt to discontinue taking their medication, which can lead to a quick return of symptoms.
Untreated bipolar disorder may also lead to inappropriate coping mechanisms like substance abuse. Misuse of substances can exaggerate or prolong symptoms of both mania and depression. And symptoms of mania can lead to difficulty controlling reckless behavior including drinking too much, driving too fast, or behaving aggressively toward others.
With or without substance abuse, episodes of mania can cause destructive actions that may not have occurred if the bipolar symptoms were under control. These actions can ultimately lead to legal problems because of acts like road rage, domestic violence, stealing money to support compulsive spending behavior, or a drug addiction.
Controlling Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The good news is that it’s possible to effectively control the symptoms of bipolar disorder by following a treatment plan that’s created by a team of mental health professionals. While symptoms may worsen with age if the condition is left untreated, obtaining effective treatment can prevent this from happening.
In most cases, bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness that will continue to require treatment, but attending a residential treatment program that includes an individualized treatment plan can help to stabilize mood swings and stop symptoms from getting worse with age.
If you’re struggling with bipolar disorder, it’s vital to reach out to trained clinicians to receive the proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
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