Bipolar disorder: Factfile

Bipolar disorder has leapt into the headlines after Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones checked into a mental health clinic for treatment for the condition.

Zeta-Jones's representative said on Wednesday she was receiving therapy for "bipolar II," one of several categories for the disorder.

Following is a factfile:

- Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder describes mood swings that can range from very low (severe depression) to very high (severe mania). The swings may occur a few times a year or as often as several times a day.

- Between one and two percent of the general population may be afflicted, with men and women in equal numbers.

- In the "up" phase, symptoms may include euphoria, restlessness, gabbled speech, extreme irritability, lack of concentration, aggressive or risky behaviour, substance abuse and increased sexual drive.

- In the "down" phase, symptoms may include a feeling of emptiness or hopelessness, lack of self-worth, poor appetite, chronic fatigue, forgetfulness and suicidal thoughts.

- The disorder is divided into several subtypes, depending on the severity and frequency of the mood:

- Bipolar I: Characterised especially by severe manic episodes that can be dangerous and damage relationships or disrupt life at school or work.

- Bipolar II: A milder form in which mood swings are not so severe, nor is the impact on daily life. Instead of full-blown mania, the patient goes through episodes of "hypomania," which is not so extreme. Periods of depression typically last longer than spells of hypomania.

- Cyclothymia: Milder still than Bipolar I and II. Episodes of hypomania and depression whose highs and lows are less severe and less disruptive.

- Suspected causes of bipolar disorder include an imbalance in hormones or in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters; traumatic events or stress that trigger a bipolar episode; and genetic inheritance (studies have shown that the disorder is more common among people with a bipolar blood relative).

- Diagnosis of bipolar disorders is complex and sometimes may take years to pin down. Treatment often involves taking mood-changing drugs, supported by longer-term counselling by psychologists, social workers or psychiatric nurses.

- Famous people who may have been bipolar include Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Vincent Van Gogh, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Charles Baudelaire.

SOURCES: Mayo Clinic (MayoClinic.com); British mental health charity Mind (mind.org.uk); http://www.troubles-bipolaires.com/

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