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Mapping of brain regions reveal differences that spike emotional swings in bipolar patients

Mapping of brain regions reveal differences that spike emotional swings in bipolar patients

17 July | 0 Comments | By Arizona Mental Health Helpline Team

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive disorder, is a brain disorder that causes unusual changes in mood, energy and activity levels. People suffering from this disorder experience “mood episodes” characterized by extreme changes in energy, activity and sleep patterns that severely affect the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. They also experience unusually intense emotions and behaviors, such as mania, severe depression, mood swings, etc.

According to many experts, bipolar disorder is primarily caused due to the problem with the specific brain circuits and imbalances in the key brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The three brain chemicals, namely noradrenaline (norepinephrine), serotonin and dopamine regulate both brain and body functions.

Dopamine regulates the nerve pathways within the brain that are responsible for regulating pleasure and emotional reward. The second neurotransmitter serotonin is associated with other functions, such as sleep, eating, sexual activity, memory, learning, etc. Last but not the least, norepinephrine is essential for the fight-to-flight response.

Considering the vital functions of these chemicals, researchers believe that the abnormal level of these key chemicals contributes to mood disorders (e.g. depression and bipolar disorder).

The disruption of circuits that communicate using dopamine in other brain areas trigger distorted and illogical thought patterns and behaviors. Since some of these repercussions are the warning signs of bipolar disorder, it is essential to ensure an adequate level of these neurotransmitters.

Creating a global map of bipolar disorder

Beating all the countries, the United States recorded the lifetime rate of bipolar disorder as high as 4.4 percent in the American population, which is the highest lifetime rate among an 11-nation study reported by CNN. Scientists have for long struggled to pinpoint the neurobiological mechanisms of the disorder, partly due to the lack of sufficient brain scans. However, one of the largest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies on the patients with bipolar disorder published new findings that suggest that people with this condition have differences in the brain regions that control inhibition and emotion.

The study part of an international consortium called ENIGMA (Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis), which includes 76 centers and includes 28 different research groups across the world. Moreover, it is led by the USC Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The examination of the MRI images of 6,503 individuals, including 2,447 adults with bipolar disorder and 4,056 healthy controls, revealed reduction in the gray matter in frontal brain regions of the brains of bipolar patients.

Besides the frontal brain regions, a great amount of thinning was observed in the temporal regions of the brain responsible for inhibition and emotions. Bipolar disorder patients with a history of psychosis showed greater deficits in the brain’s gray matter.

The researchers also examined the effects of commonly used prescription medications, age of onset of illness, history of psychosis, mood, age and gender differences on the brain’s cortical regions. Bipolar disorder patients with a past record of psychosis showed greater reduction in the brain’s gray matter. The study also found that patients who were on lithium treatment had less thinning of gray matter. This goes to suggest that lithium had a protective effect on the brain.

This study provided important clues as to which regions of the brain would be affected therapeutically by the medications, which will enable the doctors to look for the exact target regions during the treatment. Being able to map the affected brain regions is also important for early detection and prevention.

Dealing with mental problems

Medication is the cornerstone of bipolar disorder treatment. Taking a mood stabilizing medication can help in minimizing the highs and lows of bipolar disorder and keeping the symptoms under control. Besides medications, psychotherapy is essential for dealing with the repercussions of bipolar disorder.

If you or your loved one is showing the symptoms of any mental health disorder, contact the Arizona Mental Health Helpline to connect to one of the best mental health treatment centers in Arizona where specialists decide on a treatment plan that best suits your needs. You can call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-606-7791 or chat online with our representatives to know more about the mental health disorder treatment centers in Arizona.

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