While the tendency is to think of bipolar disorder as solely a mental illness, we discuss below 20 surprising physical symptoms of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder, aka manic-depressive illness, is a serious mental illness marked by extreme mood swings alternating between periods of mania (elevated mood) and periods of depression (low mood with feelings of sadness). In between these two extremes, periods of normal mood can prevail. These shifts in mood can occur several times a day or may only occur a few times in a year. Mixed bipolar episodes can be present with symptoms of both depression and mania occurring simultaneously. These mixed episodes and can be very dangerous because hopelessness mixed with extreme energy can lead to self-destructive acts, including suicide.
Bipolar disorder affects nearly 5.7 million adults (2.6% of the population) in the US each year. It affects men and women equally. The median age of onset is 25 years of age. However, bipolar disorder can also develop in childhood or later in the 40s or 50s.
Causes for Bipolar Disorder
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. Bipolar disorder is more common in people who have a blood relative with the disorder. There are changes in the structure and function of the brain of those who have bipolar disorder. Additionally, an imbalance in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters can play a role in developing bipolar disorder. Risk factors for bipolar disorder include substance abuse, stress in the form of major life changes, and childhood neglect, abuse, or trauma.
20 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Surprisingly some of these 20 physical manifestations can and do occur in most cases of bipolar disorder:
- Chronic pain without a known cause
- Shifts in energy: Energy levels shift dramatically. During mania or hypomania, one can feel incredibly energetic and take on more tasks than one can handle realistically. During the depressed phase, one can feel so out of energy that even getting out of bed can seem like a big chore.
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Low or increased appetite: While some people do not feel like eating when they’re low in mood, others turn to food for comfort.
- Changes in weight are also common: One can put on weight or shed a few kilos depending on the changes in appetite.
- Problems concentrating
- Suicidal behavior
- Difficulty in getting to sleep during depressed phase, and waking earlier than usual during manic phase
- Loss of libido
- Psychomotor retardation: Slowing of both thought and physical activities, may also occur.
- Loss of memory
- Akathisia: Psychomotor agitation. But this is mainly a side effect of antipsychotics that may be prescribed in bipolar disorder when psychosis is present.
- Tenseness in muscles and muscle cramps
- Palpitations: You may feel the heart pounding against your chest.
- Talkativeness and rapid speech
- Skin problems, such as psoriasis and cystic acne
- Headaches and blackout: Due to anger or adrenaline rushes when the rage sets in.
- Tactile hallucinations: Things crawling on you or people or things brushing against one that aren’t really there.
- Tinnitus: Ringing in your ears.
Mental Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
In addition to the above 20 surprising physical symptoms of bipolar disorder, these mental symptoms can and do occur in bipolar disorder.
In the manic phase of the disorder, the symptoms can be:
- Extreme happiness and elation
- Easy irritability
- Full of new and exciting ideas
- Racing thoughts
- Jumping very quickly from one idea to another
- Making grandiose and unrealistic plans
- Making impulsive and risky decisions, sometimes with serious consequences. For instance, extravagant shopping sprees, risky business investments, uninhibited sexual promiscuity, etc.
- Inflated self-esteem and sense of self
- Frequent absences from work or school
- Psychosis: One may see, hear, smell, taste, or seem to touch things that are not actually there (hallucinations). They may also believe in irrational things, which is hard to correct even upon producing contrary evidence (delusions).
In the depressed phase of the disorder, the symptoms will be:
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, such as watching TV, hobbies, sex, etc.
- Lack of self-worth
- Excessive guilt for things that one is not responsible for
- Feeling more irritable than usual
- Pessimistic about everything
- Suicide thoughts
Outlook for Those with Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a life-long condition. But, with proper therapy and medication it can be managed very well with adequate stabilization of moods. This also resolves the 20 physical symptoms of bipolar disorder listed above. Most people with bipolar disorder go on to live healthy and productive lives.