Bipolar symptoms can be confusing for both the person who has it and those around them. Aside from severe mood swings, many with a bipolar mood disorder report that they experience a kind of “brain fog”. Thus, oscillating between extreme highs (manic episodes) and then deep despair (depressive periods) can be made more difficult due to fuzzy and imprecise thought patterns.
Research indicates that this “brain fog” is far from psychosomatic. Instead, it’s rooted in very real brain activities, which can be monitored by sophisticated brain-scanning techniques. This discovery could have a significant effect on the way in which the disorder is diagnosed and treated. Additionally, the insight could help those suffering from bipolar disorder to better understand their probable need for treatment.
Bipolar Impact on the Brain
Researchers from University of Michigan Medical School and Depression Centre conducted brain monitoring tests to better understand bipolar symptoms. These tests required brain scans and periods of sustained cognitive concentration by the subjects. A large sampling of people with either major depression or a bipolar disorder participated. These results were then compared with those in a sample (control) group which had no diagnosed mental conditions. There was a marked difference in the brain functionality between the two groups.
The depression and bipolar group showed different levels of activity in their right posterior parietal cortex to those in the control group. This region of the brain is responsible for executive function. Which is responsible for activities such as working memory, problem solving and reasoning. Those with depression showed higher activity, while those with bipolar registered less brain activity.
Dr Kelly Ryan, lead author of the study, reports that those with mood disorders have a shared cognitive dysfunction. This was pronounced in the cognitive control tests and more nuanced in scans. Dr Scott Langnecker, senior study author, adds that mental diseases thus have more overlap in the basic brain and generic signatures than previously assumed.
The researchers hope that their findings could influence clinical screening, diagnosis and treatment strategies of mood disorders, such as bipolar.
Living with Bipolar Symptoms
Where does Bipolar come from?
While research sheds some light on how bipolar impacts a sufferer’s brain, it still doesn’t point to a single cause. Although it has long been accepted that the condition is due to abnormalities in the way some of the nerve cells in the brain function or communicate.
Who does it Affect?
Bipolar disorders are estimated to affect between three to five percent of the population. It shows no discrepancy between men and women. Its onset is usually between the ages of 18 to 29 years, but could occur at any time in life.
Due to the way it manifests, diagnosis can be tricky. There are 3 variations of bipolar disorder and it requires a specialist to formally diagnose it. However, once diagnosed there are treatment regimens which are known to be very successful at managing bipolar symptoms. These interventions can allow someone to be highly functional, to the extent that most others won’t know they have it.
Living with a Bipolar Mood Disorder
Due to the disorder affecting brain function and its nerve cell communication, sufferers are more susceptible to emotional and physical stress. Stress, substance abuse and even lack of sleep can trigger a bipolar mood swing. However, none are actually seen to be the cause even when the result is potentially debilitating.
The most effective treatment for bipolar has been shown to be one that combines medication with psychotherapy. However, there are also certain lifestyle choices which can successfully supplement treatments, thereby increasing the efficacy of treatment. For example, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. Engaging in therapeutic type activities like art or gardening. Eating a healthy balanced diet which avoids alcohol.’
Information about and understanding of the illness is key to assisting those who suffer from it and their support network. Therefore, studies which provide insight into mental disorders such as bipolar are particularly helpful.
Be part of Helping People with a Mood Disorder
The South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) offers rigorous training in areas of psychology through its Applied Psychology faculty. If you are interested in assisting those living with bipolar and other mood disorders, then contact a SACAP advisor for more information. Or enrol online.
1. What are the most common bipolar symptoms?
Bipolar Disorders are characterised by manic, hyper manic and depressive episodes. Additionally, a sufferer may experience increased irritability, need less sleep, have an exaggerated self-confidence or be unusually impulsive.
2. What causes bipolar mood disorders?
The actual cause of bipolar is unknown. However, it has been linked to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances cause communication and brain function problems between the nerve cells in someone’s brain.
3. Can bipolar disorder be managed?
Bipolar is a life long condition which can respond very successfully to the right treatment interventions. A specialist assesses the condition and thereafter decides on the appropriate treatment care pathway. Usually this involves a combination of medication, talk therapy and keeping to a healthy life-style.