Long-term effects of bipolar disorder

“Life is like a piano; the white keys represent happiness and the black show sadness. But as you go through life’s journey, remember that the black keys also create music.”

– Ehssan

Although the exact cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown, it is also unclear at times which is more important: finding the root cause of the disorder or determining how to treat the effects and symptoms. One would probably argue the first, but some of this disease’s symptoms and the extremes one can experience can, at times, outweigh the immediate need to know why.

Being a lifelong disorder there are bound to be some effects only noticeable and problematic over time. I have already addressed many of the general statistics relating to bipolar disorder in this blog so I’m not going to be focusing on those here.

Time takes its toll on everything, and the main changes bipolar disorder affects involve the brain. Research shows bipolar disorder damages the brain over time and can affect one’s memory, attention and ability to concentrate, and impulse control.

More research is needed, of course, but it is believed those with bipolar disorder have a higher likelihood of developing dementia later on in life. One study also showed bipolar disorder may cause progressive brain damage due to a lowered level of amino acids occurring over time in the brain.

Another study suggested a long-term effect is the frequency and severity of both manic and depressive episodes. The research showed the more time spent in a depressive state increased the likelihood of staying ill longer. The research showed those who spent more time in a manic state had increased chances of hospitalizations.

Research has also shown bipolar disorder can reduce gray matter in the brain over time. Gray matter helps you process information and thoughts, have better impulse control, and overall better cognitive and motor skill function. The greatest deficits found were in the frontal and temporal lobes, the regions of the brain responsible for cognitive function and thought process.

Interestingly, the results of a 2016 study suggested the blood of bipolar patients is toxic to brain cells, seriously affecting the connectivity ability of neurons.

Another major reason bipolar disorder can wreak havoc on one’s body isn’t because of the disease itself, but the medication used to fight the symptoms and stave off both manic and depressive episodes. There are a variety of types of medication prescribed for bipolar disorder including:

  • mood stabilizers
  • antipsychotics
  • antidepressants
  • combination antidepressant-antipsychotics
  • antianxiety medications

All medications cause side effects of some sort, but those acquired by lifelong use can be different and more serious.

Lithium is the main go-to medication prescribed for bipolar disorder and one I myself take. It is a mood stabilizer and can be extremely effective for those with bipolar disorder yet damaging to the kidneys over time.

Other medications prescribed can have less serious side effects, but still be damaging in various ways over time.

Those with bipolar disorder also have an increased risk for developing the following illnesses:

  • thyroid disease
  • migraines
  • heart disease
  • chronic pain
  • diabetes
  • obesity

It is also important to note that any type of bipolar disorder left untreated is dangerous and detrimental to one’s overall health.

A disease with lifelong effects like bipolar disorder requires lifelong management, usually involving a medication regimen and some sort of therapy. Although no one has all of the answers, those of us with bipolar disorder can still apply what is known to our lives in hopes of managing our illness in the best way we can.

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