Bipolar II Disorder Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment (cont.)

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In order to qualify for the diagnosis of bipolar II disorder, individuals must experience at least one episode of major depression and at least one hypomanic episode during their lifetime. Symptoms of major depression last at least two weeks and include depressed or irritable mood and a number of associated symptoms, like change in sleep or appetite, suicidal thoughts, plans, or actions, low energy, tendency to isolate from others, and loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities. Diagnostic criteria for a hypomanic episode include symptoms like elevated or irritable mood, grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, excessive speech, racing thoughts, trouble focusing, excessive activity, suicidal thoughts, plans, or actions, and behaviors that indicate poor judgment that last for at least four days.

As with most other mental disorders, there is no single cause for bipolar II disorder. For example, it is not directly passed from one generation to another genetically. Rather, it is the result of a complex group of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. Genetically, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia have much in common, in that the two disorders share a number of the same risk genes. However, both illnesses also have some genetic factors that are unique. Stress has been found to be a significant contributor to the development of most mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder.

As is true with virtually any mental-health diagnosis, there is no one test that definitively indicates that someone has bipolar II disorder. Therefore, health-care practitioners diagnose this disorder by gathering comprehensive medical, family, and mental-health information. The practitioner will also either perform a physical examination or request that the individual's primary-care doctor perform one. Medical testing will usually include lab tests to evaluate the person's general health and to explore whether or not the individual has a medical condition that might have mental-health symptoms.

The treatment plan for bipolar II disorder usually includes psychotherapy, medication, and/or social support. Medications that stabilize mood, like quetiapine (Seroquel), lamotrigine (Lamictal), and valproic acid (Depakote) have been used to treat this illness. While some people with this illness benefit from treatment with an antidepressant medication (like fluoxetine [Prozac], venlafaxine [Effexor], or escitalopram [Lexapro]), practitioners use such medications with care because of the risk of antidepressant medication being associated with the development of hypomania or mania. For some people with severe symptoms of bipolar II disorder whom do not respond well to medications, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) can be a viable treatment option.