Bipolar Affective Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, "BPAD", or "BP" is a mood disorder typically characterized by fluctuations between manic and depressive states; and, more generally, atypical mood regulation and mood instability.

According to the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), specific categories of the disorder include Bipolar type I, Bipolar type II, cyclothymic disorder, and Bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified). Each varies with intensity and length of the varying manic or hypomanic and depressive episodes. These episodes typically result in unusually extreme highs and lows of an individual's mood, over time.

Bipolar disorder is now generally considered to be a biochemical disorder of the brain and its associated hormonal systems. Without proper treatment bipolar disorder can destroy families, friendships, careers, and even lives. Bipolar disorder can be so profoundly distressing for those that suffer from it that tragically, roughly 15% of people with bipolar disorder commit suicide.

It is found in disproportionate numbers in people with creative talent such as artists, musicians, authors, poets, and scientists, and it has been speculated that the mechanisms which cause the disorder may be related to those responsible for creativity in these persons.

It should be noted that this disorder does not consist of mere "ups and downs". These are experienced by virtually everyone and do not constitute a disorder. The mood swings of bipolar disorder are far more extreme than those experienced by most people. (See cyclothymia for a milder version of this disorder.) Furthermore, mood is experienced very differently in a person with bipolar; in fact it may be best described as a mood regulation disorder. Bipolar persons may feel a little down or up about an event in their lives, just as a normal person would, but a bipolar persons’ mood might not return to normal as a normal patient’s ultimately would. Their mood may intensify until it becomes a full-blown mania or a clinical depression at that point their mood could be "stuck" until it cycles again. In addition, some people with this disorder experience extreme mood instability, where emotions can shift rapidly and unexpectedly from manic to depressed (or vice versa) with little warning or external cause, and some experience symptoms of both depression and mania simultaniously (so called "mixed states").

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