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What Is Bipolar Disorder? Essay

1046 words - 4 pages

Bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic-depressive disorder, is a mental disease that entails sudden mood swings between the manic phase (short-tempered, euphoric and energetic) and the depressed phase (simply depressed). However, this disease is not overly debilitating; Beethoven, the inspired composer, and Churchill, the exceptional Prime Minister of Britain during World War II, were both bipolar. It does tend to make the afflicted miserable, however, as in the case of Vincent Van Gogh.The biggest chemical symptoms of manic depression are the brain chemicals norpinephrine and serotonin. Norpinephrine, as well as dopamine, are in excess during the manic phase, and serotonin is in excess during the depressive phase. Genes control the brain chemicals, and it was this discovery that led to the search for genes for mental disorders. Science has pondered whether a genetic cause for bipolar disorder exists since genetics became an efficient research tool, and have found several causes; however, the genes vary from family to family and DNA is only part of the disease. It seems doubtful that a gene-based medicine would work for more than a small segment of the population. As Steve Jones says in The Language of Genes, "There have been announcements of the discovery of single genes for manic depression, schizophrenia and alcoholism. All have been withdrawn." (Jones, Steve, The Language of Genes 191).One of the biggest obstacles to finding a gene, and thus a good medication for manic depression is misdiagnosis. According to a TIME article, bipolar disorder entails "hallucinating wildly, trying to jump out of the car, pulling off clothes and ranting that people were following." Bipolar disorder does not include hallucinations; the mental disorder described is probably schizophrenia. Also scattered about the article are a boy who threw a butcher knife at his mom, children who are difficult to rouse in the morning, and little boys who say they have superhuman strength ("Young and Bipolar," TIME, November 22, 2002 68). Ironically, the writers insist the disease is "underdiagnosed".If there were some sort of protein to counteract the disorder, then the symptoms might disappear entirely for a while with no side effects. However, this protein would require knowing what gene or genes contributed to bipolar disorder. The treatments for the disease used before knowledge of this gene fall into four basic categories: mood stabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety. The mood stabilizers are nearly always used, with lithium bicarbonate at the head of the pack. Mood stabilizers control both serotonin and norpinephrine. The antidepressants used, such as Prozac, usually control serotonin. Those who use antidepressants do not control the manic phase. Antipsychotics vary as to what chemicals they control, but they tend to be more useful against the manic phase, as they usually control norpinephrine and dopamine. Anti-anxiety medicine controls the manic...

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