Bipolar disorder on its own is difficult to deal with, to say the least. Mania doesn’t end after an afternoon. The agitation eats at your nerves for weeks or the highs can cause you to take risks you wouldn’t think of outside of an episode. Being clear-headed only sounds like a fabulous idea. Then you get to swing the other way. Depression weighs heavily on your entire body. There is nothing positive you can say to or about yourself. You shut yourself away and you feel like all you can do is pray that it’s over soon. For most people with bipolar disorder, this cycle happens once or twice a year, spending varying amounts of time in each stage. Then there is rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.
Rapid cycling bipolar disorder can happen in either type I or type II. To qualify as rapid-cycling, a person has to experience at least four cycles a year. At its worst, moods cycle after a few weeks, days or even hours. Let me emphasize that last part- hours! This is why it can sometimes be confused with borderline personality disorder, but BPD and bipolar disorder are not actually the same thing. Fortunately, rapid cycling is not necessarily a permanent fixture in a person’s bipolar disorder. It can come and go throughout a person’s life. About 16% of bipolar disorder patients experience rapid cycling at some point.
Women with bipolar disorder are actually more likely to experience rapid cycling than men. More than 70% of people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder are women.
There are a few of hypotheses as to why this is, but there is a limited amount of evidence to support them.
Women are more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism. There is an established link between bipolar disorder and hypothyroidism. It is associated with its own set of cognitive and mood symptoms such as depression and slowed cognition, so it makes sense that when the two interact, it can lead to mood shifts. It’s possible these mood shifts could trigger larger bipolar mood cycles.
Your body does not pay attention to the clock on your phone. It has its own way of telling time and its own flow of sleep, hunger, thirst, hormones, you name it. When this clock gets off track, there is an increased risk of mood swings, depression, anxiety and mania.
Use of antidepressants
Depression is a major factor in bipolar disorder, and women suffer from it at a higher rate than men do. Antidepressants may be the first treatment that comes to mind because they, well, treat depression. The problem is that with bipolar disorder, antidepressants carry the risk of triggering a manic state. This effect is even more pronounced in women.
Personalized treatment for bipolar disorder is key. This is especially true for rapid cycling bipolar disorder. It requires constant evaluation of your moods and possibly frequent tweaking of medications and other treatments. It’s important to find a medical team that is willing to treat your whole person and not just the individual problems you may have. The body is more than just a sum of its parts and needs to be treated as such.
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Photo credit: RCabanilla