Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that results in sudden, unpredictable mood swings and episodes of intense mania and depression. Individuals who suffer from the disorder often experience extreme changes in mood, behavior, and activity levels, disrupting everyday life and making it difficult to maintain jobs and relationships. Causes, effects, and treatment plans for bipolar disorder are not well understood in the medical world, but ongoing bipolar research is underway to find out more about the disease and possibly discover a cure. Most current bipolar research focuses on cognitive development, genetics, diagnosing the disorder, medications, and behavioral therapy techniques.
Many research psychologists, physicians, and neuroscience experts investigate the causes of bipolar disorder by analyzing brain activity and genetic influences. Researchers use positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines to monitor brain waves and detect changes in activity in patients with bipolar disorder. By comparing PET and MRI scans to those performed on normal brains, researchers can identify the physiological and chemical discrepancies in bipolar patients.
Genetics is believed to play a significant role in the development of bipolar disorder, and scientists are attempting to pinpoint genes that are related to the illness. Most researchers believe that bipolar disorder and other mental conditions are directly linked to inherited genetic material that predispose individuals to developing problems. Scientists use information from intensive genetic bipolar research as well as longitudinal studies on families and populations to make conclusions about the prevalence of the disease and predict who will become afflicted.
Ongoing bipolar research is being conducted on different types of pharmaceuticals that can provide relief to individuals with the condition. Pharmacologists and research scientists perform laboratory and clinical trials on mood-stabilizing drugs such as lithium, and antidepressants such as fluoxetine, in hopes of finding the best balance of chemicals to relieve symptoms. No single drug has proven exceptional at treating large populations of bipolar sufferers, and doctors might prescribe many different medications on a trial basis for their patients.
Many psychological institutions engage in bipolar research on behavioral therapy and psychotherapy techniques. Clinical studies are conducted to determine the most effective means of teaching individuals to consciously alter their thinking and behavior patterns as a means of reducing the severity and likelihood of mood swings. Interpersonal therapy strategies are studied to determine social techniques that patients can use to improve their relationships with friends, family, and coworkers. Finally, research psychologists hope that psychotherapy, in which clients are given the opportunity to discuss their struggles and family histories, will be helpful in predicting future episodes and preventing sudden outbursts.