Our state of mind constantly changes, following diverse paths. We experience the highs of excitement and the lows of sadness, with periods of emotional stability in between. These emotional fluctuations are commonly experienced by us.
However, when the moods change rapidly and extremely, a person faces a roller coaster of emotional conditions, which manifests as bipolar disorder. In this condition, the person experiences two opposite poles of mental state: a period of high energy (manic phase) and a period of extreme sadness (depressive phase).
Dr Vishal Kasal, consultant psychiatrist at Cadabams Hospital, Bangalore, says: “There are some structural as well as chemical changes which happen in the brain which leads to bipolar disorder.” Several studies have shown that bipolar disorder leads to a reduced thickness of the grey matter of the brain. Grey matter is the outer portion of the brain, which processes all the information, he adds.
Other changes associated with bipolar disorder are the structural changes in the prefrontal cortex and the reduced hippocampus size. The prefrontal cortex regulates executive functioning and enables us to carry out day-to-day activities and planning. In addition, Dr Vishal says, “It [prefrontal cortex] also plays an important role in regulating impulsiveness, controlling emotions and attention.” While the hippocampus is the seat of memory, where memories get consolidated.
People with bipolar disorder may struggle with controlling impulse behaviours, paying attention and managing their thoughts. Dr Kasal explains that the exact connection between these changes and the disorder’s symptoms is still being studied. However, researchers believe that these symptoms originate in the brain. Additionally, there have been observational changes in brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
This infographic is a pictorial depiction of the brain changes in bipolar disorder.