If you’re struggling with bipolar disorder, then you’re already aware of the manic or “mixed” episodes that often inhibit your day-to-day life. However, have you ever considered how these episodes are effecting your body?
When your mood is in a consistent fluctuation between manic and depressive emotions, your body naturally has a hard time adapting. For example, while you’re in a depressive episodes, it’s granted your energy levels are low. But, if you were to suddenly find yourself in a manic episode, your energy levels suddenly skyrocket. ¹
It’s important to consider how these variations are playing a role within your body just as much as your brain. For if you can identify how your body adjusts to these rampant changes, you may have a better chance at targeting specific symptoms.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look into various parts of the body and how bipolar disorder effects them. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
Common Physical Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
A bipolar disorder is diagnosed when medical professionals identify experiences of manic episodes. These are defined as phases when your energy levels skyrocket and you’re having difficulty sleeping. You may also experience irritability, restlessness, and increased sexual desire.
Medical professionals may also observe you’re experiencing depressive episodes. Quite opposite from manic, these phases make you feel as though your lacking energy and are in need of more sleep. You may also feel hopeless and depressed.
Our bodies have a natural reaction to what’s going on inside our brains. Bipolar episodes are an easy way to identify some of these changes. ²
For example, during a depressive episode, you’ll most likely experiences changes in your appetite – you’ll find yourself eating more or less than normal. During manic episodes, your body feels like it has so much energy, you not be able to help certain symptoms, such as shaking.
The purpose of the following is to help you better understand how your body is experiencing these natural reactions, depending on your state of mind.
Before we continue, it’s important to note two things. The first is that our bodies also have a lot of influence on our psychology. A healthy diet and regular exercise have been proven to relieve symptoms of mental illness to some extent.
Not to mention, it’s possible for you to experience both manic and depressive episodes at the same time. Due to this, there may be times where you experience symptoms from both phases.
Central Nervous System
The majority of bipolar disorder symptoms play a role in your brain. Due to this, your central nervous system (CNS) is the second most affected as it’s directly connected.
Your CNS incorporates both your brain and spine and is made up of a vast variety of nerves that control various aspects of the body. Some of these include: ³
- Feelings of guilt
- Hopefulness and hopelessness
- Interest in activities
- Overactivity and hyperactivity
- Provocative attitudes
- Sadness and depression
Though bipolar disorder can have an effect on many aspects of the central nervous system, it’s been found to play a strong role in concentration. During manic episodes, you’ll most likely find that your mind is racing with thoughts that are out of your control. Or, in a depressive episode, you find your thoughts are slowed down and difficult to formulate.
These effects all take place within our CNS and it’s the brains way of influencing activity throughout the body. A lack of concentration could lead to physical feelings such as restlessness or insomnia.
In turn, your sleep also may be affected due to bipolar disorders inhibition of the CNS. This effect varies from person to person, with some claiming they have difficulty sleeping while others have experienced too much sleep. ⁴
Regardless of your circumstances, it’s important to understand that bipolar disorder’s influence on your CNS is playing a major role in many of the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Due to this, it may be beneficial to find exercises or mindful habits (such as meditation) that help to ease the CNS. It’s also been found that certain dietary habits can have a positive effect on CNS regulation. ⁵
Many people who experience bipolar disorder often struggle with a form of anxiety. This can include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a paranoid disorder, or social anxiety disorder (SAD).
Anxiety has strong implications on our physical health as a whole, but really hits hard for the cardiovascular system. Effects vary from person to person, but common effects include: ⁶
- Heart palpitations
- High blood pressure (rare)
- Increased pulse
- Rapid heart beat
In the short-term, these effects aren’t too much to worry about. However, if not treated properly, an overstimulated cardiovascular system can lead to: ⁷
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney Disease/failure
- Sexual dysfunction
- Vision loss
If you’re struggling with both anxiety and bipolar disorder, it’s important to allow medical professionals to treat both at the same time. If one mental health condition goes treated while another doesn’t, the untreated illness holds the potential to bring back symptoms of the treated one.
The endocrine system is your brain’s way of regulating message signals through hormones. Bipolar disorder has the ability to disrupt these signals and, in turn, cause abnormal hormone fluctuations. ⁸
More particularly, bipolar disorder tends to cause changes to a person’s libido. During a manic episode, you may notice your sex drive feels as though it’s on overload. Vice versa, during a depressive episode, you might find that your sex drive is significantally reduced.
Due to the effects bipolar has on your libido, you may find yourself making poor judgement in a number of different ways. Most importantly, you are at risk of making poor decisions in terms of your sexual health.
Due to the overall hormonal effect bipolar has on the endocrine system, you may also find your body weight is effective – especially, during depressive episode. Depression as a whole has often been linked to a decrease in appetite and, in turn, a significant loss in weight. ⁹
Though, it’s important to note, some people experience quite the opposite – they’ll have an increase in appetite and, in turn, a significant gain in weight. ¹⁰
Your gastrointestinal system is important for three main functions, the transportation, digestion, and absorption of food. Particularly due to anxiety, bipolar disorder can have a negative effect on your gastrointestinal system. These effects include: ¹¹
- Abdominal pain
These effects usually occur alongside feelings of panic. Many with an anxiety disorder will have an attack that very much feels like impending doom. In turn, they’ll also begin to sweat and breathe rapidly.
Though there are various medications out there to help regulate your gastrointestinal system, the best thing you can do is consume healthier foods and drinks. Through healthy diet practice, we are naturally giving our body what it needs to function properly.
Skeletal and Muscular System
Bipolar disorder itself doesn’t have a direct effect on your bones nor muscles. However, people who struggle with depression – and depressive episodes – tend to also suffer from skeletal and muscular maintenance. ¹²
The physical symptoms of depression often appear for no particular reason. Even if you haven’t done any activity that would be strenuous to your body, you may find yourself feeling pains in various areas. Most commonly, people with depression struggle with back pain.
Due to these pains, you may find it difficult to manage daily activities, such as cooking, going to work, or exercise. Not to mention, such feeling could make you feel more fatigued than normal.
In turn, extra sleep can lead to further pain known as bed sores. Though, in some cases, people experiencing physical discomfort may have trouble sleeping at night.
A doctor will not diagnose depression or bipolar disorder purely off physical symptoms. More often than not, these muscular discomforts come alongside other symptoms associated with the disorder. ¹³
Traditionally, antidepressants have been found to help some in treating their physical pain. However, due to the high-risk of addiction these medications bring, we at Bedlamite highly suggest you look into some all-natural alternatives first.
Other Ways Bipolar Disorder Effects the Body
The effects bipolar disorder can have on the body are simply the most common seen among people with the disorder. As we often advocate on this website, mental health conditions will effect everyone uniquely. And, with that said, some people may find their bodies effected in other ways due to bipolar disorder.
These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Financially splurging
- Unrealistic convictions in your own abilities
Many out there have the ability to maintain their personal and professional lives while also managing their bipolar disorder. It’s important to note that the physical symptoms mentioned here won’t have a drastic effect on everyone. ¹⁴
However, if you find that they do or you discover your physical symptoms becoming worse, we highly suggest you consult a mental health professional. When bipolar disorder goes unnoticed, it can having damaging consequences on the brain and body in the long-term.
Furthermore, it’s important for us to mention that some people experiencing bipolar disorder may experience suicidal thoughts. If you or someone you love finds themselves in this position and is at immediate risk, it’s vital you:
- Call 911 or contact your local emergency room.
- Stay with your loved one until help is available.
- Remove any possible threats to your loved one’s life (i.e. guns, knives, medications, etc.).
If you or someone you love has been struggling with suicidal ideation for some time, we high recommend you reach out to a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24/7 free service and can be reached at 1 (800) 273-8255.
Bipolar disorder may be a debilitating mental health condition, but this doesn’t mean it has to control your life. You are not alone in your struggle and help is available.
The purpose of this article was to identify how bipolar can affect your body for the sake of showing the importance in taking care of your mental health.
Still have questions concerning how bipolar disorder effects your body?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any advice to offer – whether personal or professional – we would also love to hear from you.
¹ National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Bipolar Disorder
² Soc Work Health Care: The mind-body connection: not just a theory anymore.
³ MedlinePlus: Central nervous system
⁴ Clinical psychology: Sleep Disturbance in Bipolar Disorder Across the Lifespan
⁵ PM & R: The Influence of Dietary Factors in Central Nervous System Plasticity and Injury Recovery
⁶ Annals of clinical psychiatry: Cardiovascular Morbidity and Mortality in Bipolar Disorder
⁷ MedlinePlus: Cardiovascular System
⁸ Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica: Is bipolar disorder an endocrine condition?” Glucose abnormalities in bipolar disorder
⁹ National Institutes of Health (NIH): Weight Loss in People with Serious Mental Illness
¹⁰ Bipolar disorders: The burden of obesity among adults with bipolar disorder in the United States
¹¹ J Clin Psychiatry: Depression, anxiety, and the gastrointestinal system.
¹² BMC Psychiatry: Factors associated with chronic pain in patients with bipolar depression: a cross-sectional study
¹³ Federal Food & Drug Administration (FDA): The Facts on Bipolar Disorder and FDA-Approved Treatments
¹⁴ Molecular Neuropsychiatry: Positive Traits in the Bipolar Spectrum: The Space between Madness and Genius