Definition of terms used on this site

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Atypical antipsychotics are medicines sometimes used to treat the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Often, they are taken with other medications. Atypical antipsychotics differ from "typical" antipsychotics (and often from one another) in how they work to relieve symptoms.

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Atypical antidepressants are medications that affect certain chemical messengers in the brain, including dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Atypical antidepressants improve mood by changing the levels of these chemicals. Examples of atypical antidepressants include bupropion, mirtazapine, nefazodone, and trazodone.

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The depressive phase of bipolar disorder. Bipolar depression is different from other kinds of depression and may be treated differently.

Bipolar depression symptoms

Bipolar depression has the same “low” symptoms as depression:

  • Prolonged sadness, depressed mood, or unexplained crying spells
  • No interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Loss of energy
  • Difficulties with sleep—either sleeping too much or not at all
  • Changes in appetite—significant weight gain or weight loss
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

In addition, bipolar I disorder is characterized by one or more episodes of “high” symptoms:

  • Feelings of abnormal excitement, or elevated mood
  • Talking very rapidly or excessively
  • Needing less sleep than normal, yet still having plenty of energy
  • Feeling agitated, irritable, hyper, or easily distracted
  • Engaging in risky behavior such as excessive spending, impulsive sexual encounters, or ill-advised business decisions
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A condition that involves changes in mood (both low and high). To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person must have had at least one “high” episode in his or her life, along with recurrent “lows.”

There are 4 basic types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I disorder
    Defined by “high” or mixed episodes that last at least 7 days, or by manic symptoms so severe they require immediate hospital care. Usually, depressive (“low”) episodes occur as well, and last at least 2 weeks.
  • Bipolar II disorder
    Defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes. Hypomania is characterized by mild “highs” that differ from a person’s normal behavior.
  • Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified
    This is a diagnosis given when symptoms of bipolar disorder exist that
    • don’t meet the criteria for bipolar I disorder or bipolar II disorder
    • are outside the person’s normal range of behavior
  • Cyclothymic disorder
    A mild form of bipolar disorder. People with cyclothymic disorder have episodes of hypomania as well as mild depression for at least 2 years. Hypomania is characterized by mild “highs” that differ from a person’s normal behavior.
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A less severe form of mania. Hypomania is characterized by mild "highs" that differ from a person's normal behavior.

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The “classic” form of depressive illness. Major depressive disorder is unipolar in nature, meaning that a person with the illness will experience only periods of low mood.

The National Institute of Mental Health lists the following as signs and symptoms of major depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
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An overly joyful or overexcited state. The “high” phase of bipolar I disorder.

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A first generation antidepressant. They remain an effective treatment option for some patients. MAOIs help to treat depression by boosting the levels of certain brain chemicals that affect mood. Examples of MAOIs include isocarboxazid, phenelzine, selegiline and tranylcypromine.

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Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy helps people with mental health conditions gain insight into their illnesses. By working with a therapist, either one-on-one or in a group, patients learn tools and strategies to counter unhealthy thoughts and behavior.

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A severe form of bipolar disorder in which a person has 4 or more episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states within the space of one year. See also hypomania, major depressive disorder, mania.

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A class of medicines approved to treat depression, SNRIs are sometimes prescribed for anxiety and nerve pain as well. Like other antidepressants, SNRIs work by affecting the balance of certain brain chemicals. Examples of SNRIs include duloxetine, venlafaxine, and desvenlafaxine.

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A class of medicines approved to treat depression. SSRIs work by affecting the balance of certain brain chemicals. They are “selective,” however, in their focus on serontonin. Examples of SSRIs include citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine and sertraline.

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A class of medicines approved for depression. TCAs work by affecting the balance of certain brain chemicals. Less “selective” in the chemicals they affect than newer antidepressants, TCAs include amitriptyline, amoxapine, desipramine and, imipramine.

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Depressive illness with only “low” symptoms.

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