When it appears in women, bipolar illness commonly takes a different form than it takes in men. Compared to cases affecting men, bipolar disorder in women also comes with increased risks for additional mental or physical health problems that worsen the impact of the illness. What’s more, women tend to have somewhat different bipolar symptoms than their male counterparts. Let’s examine five of the most common symptoms for women.
Most Common Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Women
- Depression While bipolar disorder is often noted for its ability to trigger bouts of the elevated, often distressing state called mania, most people who develop bipolar illness actually first experience a bout of depression. Compared to men, women have a somewhat higher chance of developing depression before experiencing any manic symptoms.
- Hypomania Hypomania is a condition that produces less severe forms of the symptoms found in people affected by full-blown mania. It appears in individuals who have a form of bipolar illness called bipolar II disorder. Women develop bipolar II disorder approximately one-third more often than men. This means that they have higher chances of experiencing hypomania instead of mania.
- Mixed Mania In classic cases of bipolar illness, episodes of mania occur separately from episodes of depression. However, instead of following this pattern, some people develop mixed mania, a state which combines symptoms of mania with overlapping symptoms of depression. Bipolar disorder in women appears to have higher chances of producing mixed mania than bipolar disorder in men.
- Rapid Cycling of Mania and Depression Bipolar episodes usually occur no more than three times a year. When episodes occur more frequently, doctors refer to the condition as rapid cycling bipolar illness. This form of the illness typically leads to an increased level of overall mood instability. Research shows that women have substantially higher risks for rapid cycling bipolar symptoms than men.
- Changes Related to the Menstrual Cycle Women with bipolar illness have unique risks for bipolar symptoms related to different stages of the monthly menstrual cycle. They also have risks related to other changes in reproductive health, including menopause and the postpartum period following pregnancy and childbirth. Research indicates that any of these menstrual or reproductive changes can lead to at least a temporary worsening of the symptoms of bipolar illness. The worst risks appear during the postpartum period. Postpartum women can relapse back into active bipolar disorder even if their symptoms were previously well-controlled. In addition, postpartum women have increased chances of developing new cases of bipolar illness.
Resources National Alliance on Mental Illness: Bipolar Disorder https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-DisorderIndian Journal of Psychiatry: Bipolar Disorder in Women https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4539870/