Bipolar disorder, previously known as “manic depression,” is a brain-based disorder. This condition is characterized by one or more occurrences of manic or “mixed” episodes, and in some cases, may include a major depressive episode.
While depression has commonly been associated with the disorder, we now know a bipolar diagnosis does not need to include depressive episodes, though it can.
Moreover, the disorder has the potential to affect virtually all other areas of your body, from your energy levels and appetite to your muscles and even libido.
Read on to find out how bipolar can affect different areas of your body.
The effects of bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is identified by periods of manic episodes.
During a manic phase, you have above-average energy levels, and may not sleep much. You can also experience irritability, restlessness, and an increased sex drive.
If you develop depression, this phase can have the opposite effects on the body. You may feel a sudden lack of energy and require more sleep, along with feeling depressed and hopeless.
Appetite changes can also occur if the person develops depression. As with mania, depression can also cause irritability and restlessness.
It’s also possible to experience a mixed-state of mania and depression. You might notice symptoms from both phases.
Central nervous system
Bipolar disorder primarily affects the brain, which is part of your central nervous system.
Composed of both the brain and the spine, your central nervous system is made up of a series of nerves that are in control of different body activities.
Some of the effects include:
- feelings of guilt
- severe sadness
- loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
- being in an excessively good mood
- feelings of hyperactivity
- being easily distracted
- being overly defensive
- having a provocative attitude
Bipolar disorder can also make it difficult to concentrate.
When you’re in the midst of a manic phase, you might find your mind racing and have a hard time controlling your thoughts. You may even talk faster than usual.
A depressive episode can also cause concentration difficulties, but your mind may feel a lot slower than normal. You might feel restless and have a hard time making decisions. Your memory may also be low.
Bipolar disorder can affect your ability to fall and stay asleep.
Manic phases often mean that you need very little sleep, and depressive episodes can result in sleeping more or less than normal. It’s not uncommon to have insomnia in both instances.
Insomnia can become especially dangerous in bipolar disorder, as you may be more tempted to take sleeping pills. Such risks are more associated with mania than depression.
When you have anxiety in addition to bipolar disorder, this can affect your cardiovascular system, too.
- heart palpitations
- rapid heart rate
- an increased pulse
Higher-than-normal blood pressure may also occur.
People with bipolar disorder are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with anxiety or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI).
Your endocrine system consists of hormones that rely heavily on messaging signals from the brain. When these signals are disrupted, you can experience hormone fluctuations.
Bipolar disorder can cause changes to your libido. Mania may put your sex drive on overload, while depression can significantly decrease it.
Some people experience poor judgment with this disorder, which can also increase the risk for poor decision-making in terms of sexual health.
Bipolar disorder may also affect your weight, especially during depressive phases. With depression, you might experience a decrease in your appetite, resulting in weight loss.
It’s also possible to have the opposite experience — your appetite might increase, thereby making you gain weight.
Skeletal and muscular systems
Bipolar disorder doesn’t directly affect the bones and muscles, but if you experience depressive episodes, these can affect your skeletal and muscular systems.
Depression can lead to unexplained aches and pains, which can make everyday activities difficult to manage. You might also find it difficult to exercise due to your discomfort.
Moreover, if you do experience depression, weakness and fatigue are common and can be accompanied with sleeping too much or an inability to sleep.
Anxiety associated with bipolar disorder can make your feel tired and irritable. It can also affect your gastrointestinal system.
Some of these effects include:
- abdominal pain
Such symptoms are often accompanied with feelings of panic, or a sense of impending doom. You might also sweat and breathe rapidly.
Bipolar disorder can affect your performance at work or school. It can also make it challenging to build and maintain relationships.
Other effects may include:
- heavy alcohol use
- drug misuse
- spending sprees
- unrealistic beliefs in your own abilities
Many people with bipolar disorder are still highly functioning individuals and can maintain a healthy professional and personal life. Untreated bipolar disorder is more likely to worsen and interfere with your daily life.
Suicidal thoughts and actions can occur in both manic and depressive episodes.
- If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- • Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- • Stay with the person until help arrives.
- • Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- • Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
- If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.