Bipolar Disorder: A Biological Overview Term Paper

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Scientists thus call this tendency a "genetic vulnerability" to inherit depression (Read 2007:1)

Biologically, bipolarity is not caused by brain damage although there is mounting evidence that the brains of bipolar patients look different from those without mood disorders. A 2000 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry that the brains of patients with bipolar disorder contain 30% more cells that send signals to other brain cells, suggesting that the extra signal-sending cells may lead to a kind of over-stimulation, causing the rapid shifts of extreme moods characteristic of the disease (Read 2007:1). However, whether the disease causes the different brain configuration or the extra cells causes the disorder still remains a mystery.

To add to the mystery of treating this illness, because bipolar disorder has two distinct mood components, that of mania, and that of depression, treating it with medication can be especially difficult. Patients with bipolar disorder usually must remain on some form of medical treatment for the duration of their lives, and often different treatment plans must be prescribed, and medications must be readjusted depending on whether a patient is in a depressive or manic phase. For example, for patients on lithium, other medications are frequently added to the patient's course of treatment to specifically address the effects of the mania or depression ("Bipolar disorder," 2007, NIH).

Anti-psychotic drugs are used to treat particularly resistant manic episodes, while antidepressants that raise serotonin levels are used to treat the depressive phase of the illness. Atypical antipsychotic medications are also sometimes prescribed to treat mania, and evidence suggests clozapine may be helpful as a mood stabilizer for people who do not respond to lithium or anticonvulsants, because they lower dopamine levels.

Lithium remains one of the most popular treatments for bipolar depression the first mood-stabilizing medication for both manic and depressive episodes.
One medication, quetiapine (Seroquel), has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat both the manic and depressive episodes of bipolar disorder. ("Bipolar disorder," 2007, the Mayo Clinic). The medication that is most successful depends on the patient's unique chemical balance, how his or her mania and depression exhibit itself, and therapy to learn coping techniques and self-care also improves the effects of most medications in patients, but is not a replacement for medication.

Side effects for mood stabilizers, depending on the specific medication may include weight gain, nausea, tremor, reduced sexual drive or performance, anxiety, hair loss, movement problems, or dry mouth ("Bipolar disorder," 2007, NIH).. One of the most dangerous side effects of any medication for bipolar disorder is that if drugs are not carefully balanced in tandem, for example, if antidepressants are used to shake a patient out of his or her depression, then a manic episode may be triggered if too much of an antidepressant is prescribed to the patient. Thus, in the case of Susie, the same treatment prescribed for her older relatives that suffered unipolar depression would not be appropriate.

Works Cited

Belmaker, R.H. (2004) "Medical Biology: On Bipolar Disorder." New Engl. J. Med.

351:476. Retrieved 1 Aug 2007 at http://scienceweek.com/2004/sb041029-5.htm

Bipolar Disorder." (2001). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved 1 Aug 2007 at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/bipolar.cfm

Bipolar Disorder." (2007). The Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 1 Aug 2007 at http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bipolar-disorder/DS00356

Read, Kimberly. "What causes bipolar disorder?' Health on the Net: About.com. Retrieved 1 Aug 2007 at http://bipolar.about.com/cs/bpbasics/a/what_causes_bp.htm.....

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