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Home > Bipolar Disorder > Causes of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar Disorder, Once Known as Manic-Depressive Disorder

"Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it; an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering and, not infrequently, suicide."
"I am fortunate that I have not died from my illness, fortunate in having received the best medical care available, and fortunate in having the friends, colleagues, and family that I do."
Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., An Unquiet Mind, 1995, p. 6.
Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. Bipolar disorder should be regarded as a spectrum of emotions ranging from extreme depression to extreme happiness or mania. The individual can range from being severely depressed, to moderately depressed, to feeling what is usually termed "the blues" when it is short-lived but is termed "dysthymia" when it is chronic. Then comes normal or balanced mood, above which comes hypomania (mild to moderate mania), and then severe mania. For some people symptoms of mania and depression can even occur simultaneously, referred to as a mixed bipolar state. This often includes agitation, trouble sleeping, significant change and appetite, psychosis and suicidal thinking. A person may be very sad and hopeless but feel energized at the same time. The combination of these symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But there is good news: bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

 
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Causes of Bipolar Disorder
Scientists are learning about the possible causes of bipolar disorder through several kinds of studies. Most scientists now agree that there is no single cause for bipolar disorder-rather, many factors act together to produce the illness.

Because bipolar disorder tends to run in families, researchers have been searching for specific genes-the microscopic "building blocks" of DNA inside all cells that influence how the body and mind work and grow-passed down through generations that may increase a person's chance of developing the illness. But genes are not the whole story. Studies of identical twins, who share all the same genes, indicate that both genes and other factors play a role in bipolar disorder. If bipolar disorder were caused entirely by genes, then the identical twin of someone with the illness would always develop the illness, and research has shown that this is not the case. But if one twin has bipolar disorder, the other twin is more likely to develop the illness than is another sibling.7

In addition, findings from gene research suggest that bipolar disorder, like other mental illnesses, does not occur because of a single gene. It appears likely that many different genes act together, and in combination with other factors of the person or the person's environment, to cause bipolar disorder. Finding these genes, each of which contributes only a small amount toward the vulnerability to bipolar disorder, has been extremely difficult. But scientists expect that the advanced research tools now being used will lead to these discoveries and to new and better treatments for bipolar disorder.

Brain-imaging studies are helping scientists learn what goes wrong in the brain to produce bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. New brain-imaging techniques allow researchers to take pictures of the living brain at work, to examine its structure and activity, without the need for surgery or other invasive procedures.

These techniques include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). There is evidence from imaging studies that the brains of people with bipolar disorder may differ from the brains of healthy individuals. As the differences are more clearly identified and defined through research, scientists will gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of the illness, and eventually may be able to predict which types of treatment will work most effectively
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