Is there a cure for bipolar disorder?

Mental Health
Bipolar disorder is a long-term mood disorder that may affect how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Bipolar is not curable, but there are many treatments and strategies that a person can use to manage their symptoms.

Without treatment, bipolar disorder may cause unusual mood episodes. People with the condition may alternate between high periods, called manic episodes, and low periods, or depressive episodes.

During a manic episode, a person will often feel happy, have lots of energy, and be very sociable. During a depressive episode, they may feel sad, have low energy, and withdraw socially.

In this article, we explore whether bipolar is curable. We also discuss how to manage the condition in the long term.

Is bipolar curable?

Doctor speaking to patient in modern office
Bipolar has no cure, but treatment can manage the symptoms.

Severe mood episodes may affect a person’s daily life because both high and low periods can interfere with sleep, work performance, and relationships.

There is an association between bipolar disorder and an increased risk of self-harm and suicide.

People often ask whether bipolar is curable, and the short answer is no. To date, scientists have neither identified the actual cause of bipolar nor found a cure.

The longer answer is more complicated than this though. Although bipolar has no cure, people with the condition can experience long periods during which they are free of symptoms.

With ongoing treatment and self-management, people with bipolar disorder can maintain a stable mood for extended periods. During intervals of recovery, they may have few or no symptoms.

Although periods of recovery are possible for some people with bipolar, other people may not have them. Everyone has a different experience of the condition and its treatment.

If someone continues to have symptoms despite treatment, it is essential not to blame the person but to continue to look for ways to improve treatment. Recurring mood episodes are common for many people with the condition.


Treatments

There are many treatment options for bipolar disorder. Each person with bipolar disorder may respond differently to treatment, and it is common to require a unique combination of treatments.

A combination of medication and talk therapy is most effective. Common medications include:

  • Mood stabilizers, such as lithium.
  • Atypical antipsychotics, such as quetiapine, which can treat both manic and depressive episodes and help maintain a stable mood.
  • Antidepressants, although not everyone with bipolar disorder responds well to antidepressants. These drugs may trigger manic episodes in some people.

A 2014 review found that using talk therapy alongside medication is more effective than medication alone as a treatment for bipolar disorder.

Types of talk therapy that may help a person manage bipolar disorder include:

  • psychoeducation
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • functional remediation
  • family-focused psychotherapy
  • interpersonal and social rhythm therapy
  • integrated care management

The type of talk therapy that is most effective will vary from person to person. A person with bipolar can discuss all these options with their doctor to decide which treatments may be most suitable for them.

A test-and-learn approach helps with all aspects of treatment for bipolar. It is often necessary to try various treatments to find the one that works best.

Long-term management and self-care

Two mature women friends walking outdoors smiling and laughing
Maintaining healthy relationships is an important part of self-care.

Once a person with bipolar disorder has found the right combination of treatments, consistency is usually crucial.

Sticking to a treatment plan may reduce the severity and recurrence of mood episodes.

Long-term management of bipolar is about more than just a treatment plan. Research highlights the role of self-management of bipolar symptoms in recovery.

Self-management strategies can include:

  • creating a good work-life balance
  • building positive relationships
  • eating a healthful diet
  • exercising frequently
  • getting enough sleep

Interpersonal support and self-care may improve recovery by increasing a person’s self-confidence.

One study suggests that interventions that empower a person to manage their shifts in mood can support recovery. Fearing mood changes may reduce a person’s ability to contain them.

Mood changes due to bipolar may not always be avoidable. However, over time, a person may get better at recognizing the early signs of mood changes and develop strategies to reduce their effect.

Strategies such as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation may bring more awareness to changes in mood. Self-care activities, including bathing, reading, listening to music, or journaling, may also help moderate mood shifts before they escalate.


What to ask a doctor

A doctor cannot offer a cure for bipolar disorder, but they can support a person with the condition to manage their symptoms.

If their current treatment plan is not working, a person should speak to their doctor about trying different:

  • medications
  • talk therapies
  • support groups

Working together with a trusted doctor is the best way to find the right combination of treatments. Effective, consistent treatment can reduce the frequency and severity of mood episodes.

Suicide prevention

  • If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.


Summary

Bipolar disorder is a manageable long-term mental health condition that affects a person’s mood.

Without effective treatment, bipolar disorder can cause severe high and low mood episodes. The symptoms of these episodes may negatively affect a person’s life. Bipolar disorder may also increase the risk of self-harm and suicide.

With treatment, a person with bipolar may have extended periods without severe mood episodes, during which they may experience few or no symptoms.

However, not everyone with bipolar can live symptom-free. Every person with the condition has a different experience of treatment and self-management.

If a person does continue to experience severe mood episodes, it is vital to realize that it is not their fault. Continuing to engage with treatment and self-care is the best way to support recovery.

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