Sheri Van Dijk answered:
Bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depression. In recent years, however, we've come to realize that there's a lot more to this illness than just manias and depressions, as indicated by its original name - there are dysthymic episodes (low grade depressions), hypomanias ("little highs" as opposed to full-blown mania), mixed episodes, and so on.
The word spectrum refers to a range of related qualities or ideas - in the case of bipolar spectrum disorder, the word spectrum acknowledges that there is a range of symptoms and states that can be experienced by someone with bipolar disorder. Let's compare bipolar disorder to unipolar depression to make this point more clear.
In unipolar depression, the symptoms are fairly clear-cut; although everyone experiences depression differently, there is agreement about what the symptoms of depression are, and what depression typically looks like.
With bipolar disorder, however, there is a number of different possible episodes an individual could experience; and within these episodes, the symptoms are also variable; so it would be impossible to put together a list of what the symptoms of bipolar disorder are. Therefore, they call bipolar disorder a spectrum, indicating that the illness consists of is a broad range of episodes and symptoms.Bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depression. In recent years, however, we've come to realize that there's a lot more to this illness than just manias and depressions, as indicated by its original name - there are dysthymic episodes... More
Dr. John Preston answered:
Many medical disorders have both serious and mild versions. Bipolar Spectrum Disorders include the following: Bipolar I (with both severe depressive and manic episodes); Bipolar II (severe depressions and milder forms of mania: hypomania); Cyclothymia (mild depressions and hypomanias) and childhood onset bipolar disorder. Childhood onset bipolar disorder is listed separately because it often has a somewhat different set of symptoms (e.g. mixed manic episodes: very high energy, agitation, decreased need for sleep, extreme temper tantrums lasting for hours, severe depression, irritability and a significant risk for suicidal attempts; this is the most commonly seen version of mania in children). Also, unfortunately, the medical treatment of childhood onset bipolar is much more challenging (medications that can be very effective in treating the later no-set bipolar disorders are only marginally effective in children suffering from this condition).
Cyclothymia lies on the mild side of this spectrum and Bipolar I and II on the severe end. Another thing that is common to all of these versions of bipolar disorder is a family history of bipolar and other severe mood disorders. These conditions are felt to be genetically transmitted, and thus are seen in many blood relatives.
Some researchers include other mood disorders in this spectrum (although this is not firmly established): Bipolar III (only recurrent, severe depressions, but mania can be provoked if the person used cocaine or methamphetamine or is taking antidepressants). Note: antidepressants can ignite manic episodes in bipolar patients and thus these drugs generally are not used in treating bipolar disorders (there are rare exceptions). Another condition is Hyperthymia: this is a non-episodic set of traits that include: up-beat mood, self-confidence, energetic, sometimes impulsivity and a decreased need to sleep (e.g. routinely sleeping 5 hours a night and not experiencing daytime fatigue). Obviously this is a condition for which almost no one seeks treatment. However, this can be seen in blood relatives who suffer from more severe forms of Bipolar Disorder.Many medical disorders have both serious and mild versions. Bipolar Spectrum Disorders include the following: Bipolar I (with both severe depressive and manic episodes); Bipolar II (severe depressions and milder forms of mania: hypomania);... More