Does Bipolar Affect Men and Women Differently?

Gender Difference in Bipolar

Gender Difference in Bipolar DisorderBipolar disorder is recognizable by patterns of mood disturbances, with swings ranging from depressed to manic/hypomanic, or at times even psychosis or a mixed state. However, studies have shown that there are some trends that can present differently between males and females who have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

One noticeable difference is the age of onset, which is fairly small, but still significant. The average first manic episode of a bipolar person will emerge in the 20s/30s, however women usually present with these symptoms 3-5 years later than men on average.

Women usually also experience a more seasonal version of the disorder, which for the most part involves depressive episodes emerging more in the winter months, and progressing onto hypomania or mania during the hotter summer months.

Most research tends to show women with bipolar disorder have more chance of being diagnosed with type II, meaning that the chances of a full manic episode are less than that of a man. Women also tend to have a depressive episode at the onset of their illness, in contrast to men who usually see the disorder emerging with a manic episode.

It is interesting to note that although women tend to be diagnosed with type II, meaning generally their experience of bipolar disorder is slightly milder; articles have shown that women are more likely to go through mixed episodes. A mixed episode in bipolar disorder is defined by symptoms appearing of both a depressive episode and a manic episode. Some of the usual ways in which a mixed episode affects someone with bipolar could be a tendency to be more irritable or losing their temper more often, pressured and rapid speech, and racing thoughts.


Rapid Cycling and Comorbidities

Another subset of bipolar disorder is that of rapid cycling, which entails four or more episodes of mania, hypomania or depression presenting in one year. It has been shown through various studies that it is more likely for a woman with bipolar disorder to be rapid cycling than a man, who is more likely to go through slower yet more pronounced changes in mood and mental state. Rapid cycling bipolar is often more harder to treat, which can present new challenges in reaching recovery for females with the disorder.

Men are often more likely to have more intense mania, resulting in potential fighting, shouting in the street, and other extreme behaviour which puts them at risk of trouble with authorities, or of needing to enter an inpatient facility. However, it has been noted that men are less likely to voluntarily seek help for their symptoms, and often are pushed to the extremes of the disorder before medical help intervenes.

Bipolar disorder is often comorbid with other mental health disorders, and there are gender differences in these also. Substance abuse in concurrence with bipolar disorder is usually seen more in males, whereas females are more likely to have an anxiety related disorder or an eating disorder. The higher likelihood of anxiety in females means they are more likely to be treated with some form of anti anxiety medication such as benzodiazepines alongside the usual treatment of mood stabilizers etc.

Next page: the impact of bipolar on reproductive events.

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