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Frequently Asked Questions About Bipolar Disorder

Q: What is bipolar disorder?

A: A brain disorder marked by bouts of extreme and impairing changes in mood, energy, thinking, and behavior. Symptoms may emerge either suddenly or gradually during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood.

Q: Can bipolar disorder be cured?

A: Clinical depression and bipolar disorder tend to be episodic in nature. These illnesses are treatable, but right now cannot be cured. The goal of treatment should be to manage the disease, decrease the severity of  depressive and manic episodes and keep recurrences to a minimum.

Q: What is the difference between depression and bipolar illness?

A: Clinical depression is also called "unipolar" depression because a person's mood swings only in one direction - down. Normal periods are separated by a steady drop in mood, which becomes lower and lower. In contrast, manic depression is "bipolar," because the mood swings range from low to high (manic) and back again.

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Chat with Kiki Chang, M.D.


The Balanced Mind Parent Network Expert Chat with Ellen Leibenluft, M.D., of NIMH

Nanci - The Balanced Mind Parent Network 
I'm very pleased to introduce our guest expert today, Dr. Ellen Leibenluft. Dr. Leibenluft received her B.A. from Yale University in 1974 and an M.D. from Stanford University in 1978. After completing residency training at Georgetown University Hospital, she served on the faculty there as director of the psychiatric inpatient unit and day hospital. She then came to the NIMH, where she conducted research on bipolar disorder. In particular, her publications focus on rapid cycling bipolar disorder (a severe form of the illness) and on the role of the sleep-wake cycle in the illness. She has also written and spoken widely on gender differences in the prevalence and symptomatology of mood disorders. She is now actively involved in research on bipolar disorder in children and adolescents, with a particular emphasis on differences between children and adults in the presentation of the illness; neural mechanisms underlying the symptoms of the illness; and the development of new treatment strategies for early-onset bipolar disorder.

Nanci - The Balanced Mind Parent Network 
Dr. Leibenluft, would you like to start out by talking about the research that you are doing with the NIMH?

Dr. Ellen Leibenluft

First, I want to say that it’s a pleasure to be here "chatting" with you all. Our research is focused on the brain mechanisms that underlie bipolar disorder in children, and also very severe irritability. We hope that these studies will move us closer to better treatments and even prevention of the illness. We are also interested in children with have a sibling or parent with bipolar disorder, and therefore are at risk for the illness. 

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"Treatment needed for bipolar disorder," Chicago Tribune

"Treatment needed for bipolar disorder," Letter to the Editor, Chicago Tribune, December 5, 2007 by Susan Resko, MM, Executive Director


Reduced Amygdalar Gray Matter Volume in Familial Pediatric Bipolar Disorder

This is a study by Kiki Chang, M.D., et al which discusses the amygdala's prominent role in emotion processing and response.The amygdala was found to be smaller in BD adolescents, and larger in adults taking lithium.

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