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5 Fast Facts

Fast Fact #1. 6 Conditions That Can Go Hand-in-Hand With Bipolar Disorder

Co-occurring psychiatric conditions can be common alongside bipolar disorder and need to be diagnosed and managed concurrently.  Here are six disorders that can accompany your bipolar diagnosis:


Anxiety disorders

Anxiety as a symptom occurs during the course of illness for most people living with bipolar disorder and can resolve as part of the standard treatment. However, studies report that anxiety disorders are three to four times more common in bipolar disorder with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder most consistent. Since anxiety disorders can worsen the course of bipolar, they generally require additional treatment.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

About one-third of adults with bipolar disorder have co-occurring ADHD as do up to 80 percent of children and adolescents, notes Stephen M. Strakowski MD, Chair of Psychiatry at Dell Medical School in Texas. “The decrease with aging in rates of co-occurring ADHD may be due to ADHD symptoms resolving over time. Alternatively, this decline in rates with age may represent a complex interplay between cognitive and brain development…”


Personality disorders

Studies have reported high rates of co-occurring personality disorder with bipolar. “Elevated rates of borderline, narcissistic, histrionic, obsessive-compulsive, and avoidant personality disorders are particularly common and occur in up to half of bipolar individuals,” Strakowski points out in his book Bipolar Disorder (Oxford University Press 2014). Personality disorders, he explains, generally require long-term and focused psychotherapies to gain improvement, in addition to treating the primary bipolar disorder.


Alcohol use disorders

Studies show that up to half of people with bipolar disorder exhibit alcohol abuse at some point in their life. Alcohol abuse is associated with impaired treatment response, increased time in depression, increased risk of suicide, and worse functional outcome,” explains Strakowski. Therefore, health professionals would be wise to watch for evidence of alcohol abuse in their patients with bipolar disorder.


Nicotine use disorders

Smoking seems to share common ground with bipolar disorder, affecting up to 80 percent of individuals. This is concerning since cigarette use is associated with increased anxiety, as well as heart disease, stroke and cancer. Studies also show that people living with bipolar who smoke are less successful at quitting. Consequently, it’s extremely important for doctors to address nicotine use in the management of bipolar disorder.


Other drug use disorders

In addition to the excess use of nicotine and alcohol, there is also an elevated abuse of illicit and prescription drug use associated with bipolar disorder. As Strakowski notes, the lifetime predominance of drug abuse in bipolar is three to six times greater than in people without bipolar disorder. Drug abuse significantly worsens the course of the disorder, adding to increased affective episodes and poor psychosocial recovery.


Fast Fact #2. Research Finds Key Qualities of Bipolar Disorder

A new study has revealed key aspects of bipolar disorder, in addition to the development of a new framework to diagnose and track the condition. A 12-year study from the University of Michigan has revealed defining aspects of bipolar disorder, in addition to the development of a new framework to diagnose and track the  condition.  The key findings are hope to help researchers, clinical teams, and patients understand the condition. These findings include:

Reoccurring Headaches More Frequent:

Migraines are three and a half times more common in people with bipolar disorder, according to the study.


Dealing with Other Conditions Common:

Eating disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol problems, and metabolic syndrome are among other conditions people with bipolar disorder deal with.


Poor Sleep Can Worsen Symptoms

Inadequate shuteye plays a major role in bipolar disorder symptoms, increasing the severity of depression and mania, especially among women with the condition.


Aspects of Speech Could Predict Mood Swings:

Key features of speech patterns can be used to foresee the need to prevent episodes of mania or depression, according to the study.


Saturated Fats a Factor in Symptoms:

Patients with bipolar disorder were found to have diets higher in saturated fats, according to the study. Connections were also discovered between the mood or level of symptoms in patients with bipolar disorder and certain fat molecules in their blood.


More to Genetics Behind the Condition:


While bipolar disorder does run in families, there is not a particular gene that is to blame. While two genes, CACNA1 and ANK3, seem to be involved in causing bipolar, many genetic variations have been found to be associated with the risk.


“If there was a gene with a strong effect like what we see in breast cancer, for instance, we would have found it,” said Melvin McInnis, M.D., a lead author of the study and Woodworth Professor of Bipolar Disorder and Depression in the U-M Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry. “We hope this new framework will provide a new approach to understand this disorder, and other complex diseases, by developing models that can guide a management strategy for clinicians and patients and give researchers consistent variables to measure and assess.”


Fast Fact #3 Causes of Bipolar Disorder Discovered

Past experiences and changes in cognition are among the factors a team from the University of Michigan have found play a role in causing the brain-based disorder.

After a study that spanned more than a decade, a University of Michigan team has a better understanding of circumstances that can lead to a bipolar disorder diagnosis.  Their research included the creation of a new framework with seven “phenoclasses” or categories to help patients, clinicians and researchers diagnose and understand the mental health condition’s progression. These classes include:

Psychological DimensionsPersonality traits and temperament

While everyone living with bipolar disorder is unique, elements of people’s personality were found to be among the key factors that shape the condition, according to the U-M Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program study.

Changes in cognition: Thinking, reasoning and processing feelings

Motivated Behaviors

These are defined as behaviors related to substance use or abuse. Substance addiction, such as alcohol, nicotine, and other drug use disorders can be common for people dealing with bipolar disorder as forms of self-medication.

Past Experiences

Aspects of a person’s life story that involve family, intimate relationships and traumas are included in this class


Patterns of circadian rhythms, or our biological clocks, are of primarily importance within this category

Measuring Change

Indications of how a person’s symptoms change and respond to treatment over time can also be used to diagnose and track bipolar disorder

Standard procedures

The U-M study classes also include the standard methods doctors already have in place to track the progress of bipolar disorder

Read the full studyAfter Searching 12 Years for Bipolar Disorder’s Cause, Team Concludes It Has Many


Fast Fact #4. 3 Things to Know About Bipolar and Noise Sensitivity

Whether you have sensitivity to a particular sound related to a past emotional experience or if common noises are intolerable for you; here’s what you can do:

Acknowledge the hypersensitivity

It’s important to accept what our body is doing and realize it’s normal to feel anxious and we should try not to fear the sensitivity to sound. Practice self-compassion and remind yourself you are facing your fears. When sounds are starting to bother you, analyze where you are mood-wise. Putting your noise intolerance into the context of symptomatic hypersensitivity may highlight the need for some overall self-care.

Know your triggers, be prepared

Once you understand what sets you off, you can do your best to avoid these situations, or at least mute the effects. Wear noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds to eliminate unwanted noise or listen to something more pleasant or incorporate a white noise machine or a white noise app on your smart phone. Do some problem solving with your therapist and make a plan for the next time noise intrudes your life. Plan on what you’ll do if you’re in an intolerable situation—like be prepared to leave a movie theatre or other public place without feeling embarrassed.

Re-direct your attention

If possible, switch your focus from the pain of noise to something else that requires extreme focus but that’s enjoyable for you. Have a plan with a family member or friend for them to help re-direct your attention away from the offending noise. Create a designated area in your home where silence reigns supreme. Look for safe environments where you can retreat to, such as a library, outdoors in a quiet park, a church or always have your noise-cancelling headphones handy.


Fast Fact #5. Working with Bipolar Disorder: 3 Things to Consider

When looking for meaningful work that works for you there are several things to consider before your search’ here are just three:

Think about the environment

Dealing with the public or in front-line customer service can be fraught with abusive customers and is a landmine for triggers. The stress can be overwhelming and ultimately unhealthy. Consider your needs: perhaps you would be better suited for a slower-paced and behind-the-scenes job; one with minimal stress related to the outcomes of the position i.e. having to work to very tight deadlines. Of course, medication, proper sleep and psychotherapy all have to be considered in conjunction for success.


Consider self-employment

Take some time to consider what your needs are day-to-day and realistically what you can manage in terms of employment. If your mood cycling is still unpredictable then you need flexibility; if dealing with others on a daily basis is a trigger for you, maybe you can consider self-employment or a job that allows remote working.


Explaining previous job losses

You may be in a position of having to explain a string of previous job losses, perhaps before you were diagnosed and became stable on medication. You’ll need to decide whether you want to disclose the reason for the rocky job history or simply state you had “health issues.” It can be a challenging issue to face; but if it applies to you, deciding beforehand how you will respond is recommended.