Bipolar I is a form of bipolar disorder characterized by at least one manic or mixed episode in a patient's history. Patients also commonly experience depression, explaining why this condition is sometimes called “manic-depressive disorder.” Bipolar I is the most serious form of bipolar disorder and it can include disabling symptoms that make it difficult for the patient to function during a manic, depressive, or mixed episode. Treatment options are available and as neurologists learn more about the brain and how it functions in people with conditions like bipolar I, other options may develop.
Diagnosing patients with bipolar disorder is challenging, and requires a series of medical tests and patient interviews. First, physical causes for mania, like medications and recreational drugs, must be ruled out. The patient must also be carefully interviewed for diagnostic signs of other mental illnesses that are treated and managed differently. If a physician can confirm that a patient has experienced one or more manic or mixed episodes and there are no physical causes, the patient may have bipolar I. If a patient has only experienced hypomanic episodes, the diagnosis is bipolar II.
Some patients have a form known as bipolar I with psychotic features. In these cases, during manic or mixed episodes, the patient experiences symptoms of psychosis like delusions and hallucinations. These can make the manic episodes more intense, as well as more dangerous, for the patient, because the patient may experience feelings of invincibility and can also develop extreme paranoia and other symptoms. During manic episodes, patients are typically highly active and may have disorganized speech and thoughts.
One of the standard treatments available for patients with bipolar I is lithium, a medication that helps patients avoid the extreme highs and lows associated with bipolar disorder. Patients can also take other medications and may benefit from psychotherapy. Therapy can help patients manage and address emotions to avoid creating situations where emotions feed episodes of mania or hypomania, and therapy can also help patients with depressive symptoms.
Some people with bipolar I and other forms of bipolar disorder choose not to control their conditions with medication. Management with therapy and other techniques may be sufficient to meet their needs. Every patient is different, and patients may find it helpful to meet with several mental health professionals to find a practitioner who meets their needs and is willing to work with them to develop an appropriate treatment plan.