Is bipolar depression serious?

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Bipolar depression is not life-threatening in itself, though it can seriously and dangerously affect the lives of people experiencing these episodes. The body is affected through different sleeping and eating habits, which can be detrimental to the one's health. Physical symptoms may include heart palpitations, headache and chest pains. Often, people with bipolar disorder try to cope with symptoms by abusing alcohol or other drugs. Depression can lead to thoughts of self-harm and suicide. To prevent these negative effects, people experiencing bipolar depression may require hospitalization.

You should talk to a doctor about any bipolar depression symptoms you may be experiencing. The earlier that bipolar depression is diagnosed, the better chance you have at preventing other episodes. Episodes can have dangerous consequences if left untreated and can have serious and negative effects on your relationships and commitments. If you are having any thoughts of suicide, contact a doctor, healthcare professional, mental health service or hotline immediately.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Bipolar depression ranges from mild to very serious. Bipolar depression can affect the body indirectly. Many people with bipolar disorder experience changes in their sleep patterns. Lack of sleep increases the risk of many types of physical illness. In addition, common medications for bipolar disorder can cause side effects, such as frequent urination, excessive thirst, weight gain, hand tremors, an upset stomach, hair loss, acne, bloating or a rash.

Some people with bipolar depression are so severely affected that they want to commit suicide. They may be unable to work or take care of other responsibilities. Relationships with loved ones may fall apart. Also, in severe cases where one's thinking becomes irrational, they can make impulsive decisions that can put themselves or others at risk for unintentional harm. Fortunately, good treatments are available to control these symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about your bipolar depression symptoms. Your doctor can prescribe medication, and help you make changes to your lifestyle that may reduce the symptoms. Your doctor can adjust treatments if your symptoms change or if you develop side effects. Some treatments work better for bipolar depression than other symptoms of bipolar disorder. Other illnesses and medications may also affect the disorder and its symptoms, so it is important to check with your doctor about these as well.

Dr. Russ Federman, PhD
Psychology Specialist

Bipolar depression is not always debilitating. We see a wide range of acuity with bipolar depression. Some depressive states may be mild whereas others can be acute. And for those with bipolar disorder who enter a mild depression, the experience is not necessarily debilitating.

Now that said, there are a couple of other factors at play that make bipolar depression difficult to live with. If depressive acuity is in the moderate to acute range, then part of what makes this so difficult is the fact that an individual's depressive experience may be recurrent and chronic. So it isn't just the fact that someone is depressed, but it may be their fifth bout of major depression over a six or seven year period of time. With each successive relapse, the individual's sense of hopelessness may increase because he or she may feel there is no option of ever truly being free from the mood disorder.

Additionally, the most common treatment for moderate to acute depression—antidepressant medication—is often contraindicated for those with bipolar disorder. Antidepressants prescribed to those with bipolar disorder can precipitate new episodes of elevated mood. Therefore, psychiatric options can be more limited in response to bipolar depression as opposed to unipolar depression. This too can contribute to the pain and frustration for those experiencing bipolar depression.

Dr. Mark W. Moronell, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The symptoms of bipolar depression can be unique for each individual. If you have bipolar depression, it can be quite severe or mild (dysthymia). Some people suffer with bipolar depression for weeks while others may have a low-grade depression called dysthymia for two years or longer. Whatever symptoms you have of bipolar depression, there is treatment, so see your doctor. Symptoms of bipolar depression may include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless and worthless
  • Feeling sad
  • Low energy
  • Irritable
  • Feeling restless
  • Unable to make decisions
  • Inattentive
  • Increased anxiety
  • Ruminating thoughts and worries
  • No interest in normal activities
  • Feeling guilty
  • Suicidal ideation
Dr. Ruth White, MPH
Social Work Specialist

Bipolar depression is quite serious because it can lead to suicidality. People living with bipolar disorder are at high risk for suicidal thoughts and there is a high rate of suicide attempts among people who have bipolar depression. Bipolar depression can be really short in duration or can last for months. It interferes with thought processes, relationships with loved ones, work performance and the daily routines of life. Depending on the severity of the depression, people may not bathe regularly, eat, leave the bed or engage with others. Sometimes bipolar depression leads to hospitalization.

Continue Learning about Bipolar Depression (Manic Depression)

Bipolar Depression (Manic Depression)

Bipolar Depression (Manic Depression)

Bipolar depression (or manic depression) is another name for bipolar disorder, a psychiatric condition that causes severe mood swings. Symptoms of bipolar depression include severe sadness lasting two or more weeks, having little ...

energy and interest in activities. During manic episodes or mania, the person with bipolar depression has periods of high energy, extreme productivity, happiness, excitement and possible engagement in risky behaviors. Treatment for bipolar depression can vary and often includes a combination of therapy and medication.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.