Causes of Bipolar Disorder - Contributing Factors
What are the possible causes of bipolar disorder, also called manic depression?
Many experts believe that the majority of mental illnesses result due to a combination of multiple factors working together - hereditary, environmental, and biochemical.
In bipolar disorder, most psychologists see the factors as being both biological and psychological, that is, that people develop bipolar disorder due to the interaction of physical and environmental factors. The exact causes of the disorder have not yet been determined, though researchers have formed a number of plausible theories.
Multi Factorial Causes of Bipolar Disorder
In all likelihood, the causes of bipolar disorder are multi-faceted - genetic, neurochemical and environmental factors work in tandem to trigger bipolar disorder in a predisposed individual. Once triggered, the individual may progress in the disorder depending on the continuance of the factors involved, or completely separate from any stressors.
Current theories hold that bipolar disorder may be primarily a biological manifestation that affects a specific part of the brain in which a malfunction in neurotransmitters has occurred. Neurotransmitters work as the brains chemical messengers.
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So, in some individuals, bipolar disorder lies in wait, dormant, until a particular event or outside environmental stressor triggers the malfunction. The disorder is then said to take on a life of its own.
The genetic element seems to play a part as possible causes of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder tends to run in families, with approximately half the people diagnosed with the disorder having a family member with bipolar disorder or a similar mood disorder like depression. An individual with one bipolar parent has a 15 to 25 percent chance of also developing the condition.
In a study of fraternal and identical twins, if one fraternal twin developed the disorder, the second twin had approximately a 25 percent chance of also developing the disorder. When the twins happened to be identical, the likelihood skyrocketed by about eightfold, underscoring the probable genetic link as possible causes of bipolar disorder.
Environmental Influence and Trigger
Some studies also tracked the development of adopted twins to try and ascertain the role of genetics versus environmental factors. Environmental triggers did play a prime role in the onset of the condition, also having a part as possible causes of bipolar disorder.
When an environmental stressor causes a major life disturbance, the pre-existing chemical imbalance in the brain may be exacerbated. This imbalance, specifically of the neurotransmitters, can determine the type of mood swing an affected individual experiences. For instance, if the level of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine moves too high, a manic episode may result. In contrast, if the amount of the chemical drops below normal levels, a depressive episode may occur.
Many researchers believe that other neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, may also be involved, and there exists much debate as to whether the levels of one particular neurotransmitter play the most important role, or whether it is the levels in relation to one another that form the causes of bipolar disorder, triggering the mood swings.
Regardless of specifics, most researchers feel fairly confident that neurotransmitters do affect bipolar disorder, because drugs that alter neurotransmitters also affect mood disorders. As mentioned, environmental factors often hold the key as to whether a genetically predisposed individual ever actually becomes bipolar.
Triggers that are contributory causes of bipolar disorder include altered health habits, alcohol or drug abuse, hormonal disturbances (like the onset of puberty), and social or emotional traumas (divorce, death of a loved one, etc.).
Diathesis-Stress Model - Vulnerability to a Certain Disease
The exact incident or issue will differ for every individual, but once triggered, bipolar disorder begins to cycle through episodes of manic and depressive states, often without regard to resolution of the initial traumatic event. This vulnerability has been called the "Diathesis-Stress Model."
The word diathesis refers to a physical condition that makes a person more than usually susceptible to certain diseases. Thus, the Diathesis-Stress Model says that each person inherits certain physical vulnerabilities to conditions that may or may not appear depending on what stresses occur in his or her life.
At this point, the biological and psychological predispositions take over, keeping the illness active until the individual seeks or receives treatment. Although substance abuse itself may not actually be among the causes of bipolar disorder per se, in that the chemical imbalance will already be present, it often worsens that condition and impedes recovery. Use of depressants like alcohol and tranquilizers or other sedatives will also deepen depressive states.
Similar Health Conditions and Ailments
It should be noted that not everyone who experiences mood swings or a change in personality has bipolar disorder. Many medical conditions have symptoms similar to bipolar disorder, and must be ruled out before effective treatment can commence.
Bipolar disorder can be notoriously difficult to diagnose, and many people up until recently have suffered for decades with the disorder and an improper diagnosis. The following conditions can display symptoms similar to bipolar disorder: head trauma resulting in a blood clot or bleeding and subsequent swelling in the brain; thyroids problems; systemic lupus; certain brain tumors; epilepsy; and various psychiatric disorders like panic disorder, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and delusional disorders or phobias.
Role of Drugs, Medications and other Substances
Then there is the role of chemical substances as possible triggers and causes of bipolar disorder.
Many experts feel that certain medications, especially antidepressants, can trigger manic episodes in people with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Therefore, the treatment of a bipolar individuals depressed state will differ from the treatment prescribed to someone who has another form of clinical depression.
Furthermore, some medications can mimic the symptoms of a manic state, especially appetite suppressants, which can elevate energy levels to a hyperactive state, during which the need for sleep disappears for a time.
Likewise, illicit substances like Ecstasy, cocaine and amphetamines cause manic-like states in many individuals. In a person vulnerable to the disorder, even mild stimulants like caffeine (when taken in sufficient quantities) can function as possible triggers and causes of bipolar disorder and set off an episode.
We hope that the information provided here has given you an overall idea of the triggers, factors, and causes of bipolar disorder or manic depression.
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