Bipolar Disorder and Chronic Pain

The Bipolar-Pain Connection

According to recent research, about 14% of people with bipolar disorder experience migraines and another 24% experience some other form of chronic pain. That’s almost a third of people with bipolar disorder who are in some sort of serious pain!

In particular, migraines affect 1 in 7 persons with bipolar disorder, which is 3 times more likely than the general population. I’ve been living with chronic migraine for ten years now. Some days I feel like it’s a death sentence. Some days I wish that sentence was carried out. My doctors are still trying to figure out a way to decrease the frequency of my 8 to 12 migraines per month. Apparently, “bipolar disorder and migraines are multifactorial in etiology—there appear to be vascular, cellular, molecular, neurochemical (serotonergic and noradrenergic), and genetic (KIAA0564) components in common between bipolar disorder and migraine conditions.”

Pain and Mental Illness’s Affect on One Another

In general, people with mental illness who experience chronic pain tend to have worsening symptoms of their illness. Often doctors do not take seriously the complaints of physical pain from those individuals who have mental illness. A lot of times people with mental illness have increased sensitivity to pain because they are experiencing depression. Also, because they are experiencing symptoms of mental illness, many times people with mental conditions do not seek the medical care they need to address their physical pain. This leads to greater functional impairments, poorer quality of life, increased disability, and increased risk of suicide compared to those without pain.

Treatments that Address Pain and Mental Illness

Sometimes tricyclic antidepressants or other select antidepressants can be used to help minimize physical pain symptoms as well as address depression symptoms in some patients. Care needs to be taken in patients with bipolar disorder, however, due to the increased risk of triggering a manic episode in those who take antidepressants alone. Often times, a mood stabilizer will be used in conjunction with the antidepressant in these patients.

This is exactly the treatment I am currently receiving under the care of my physician. I am excited to see if it will decrease the frequency of my migraines while addressing my depression and anxiety symptoms at the same time.

Non-pharmaceutical treatments for physical pain and some mental illness symptoms can include things such as meditation, yoga, exercise, prayer, talk therapy, and diet modifications.

Work with your doctor to figure out what may be the best course of action for you. The most important thing is to not give up hope and to never give up trying to find a way out.

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Are People with Bipolar Disorder Lazy?

bipolar couch

A recent study reported that those of us with bipolar disorder are significantly more sedentary than those who do not have the disorder. Health professionals recommend 150 minutes of moderate to rigorous physical activity per week. Apparently, we of the bipolar persuasion sit on our duffs for 78% of the day while “nonusers of mental health services” are sedentary for only 59% of the day.

I get it…the numbers don’t lie. But, I’d like to let those researchers in on a little secret: we aren’t sitting around in a completely dulled state. More often than not, our minds are going 250,000 miles per minute thinking of project after project; worrying about the past; projecting into the future, and wishing more than anything that the pesky hamster taking speed, who continuously runs on the wheel inside our heads, would take a friggin’ nap already!

Wouldn’t it be great if mental activity burned as many calories as physical activity? Although, then we’d all have to be treated for anorexia, now, wouldn’t we?

bipolar wheel

Or maybe we are in a dulled state. Why? Oh gee, could it be the multitude of medications we are on, or are we really just lazy? Don’t get me wrong – the researchers did NOT say we were lazy. That is my inference alone; I take 100% responsibility for it. They did however conclude that:

“From public health and clinical perspectives, these findings justify physical activity interventions targeting adults with [bipolar disorder],” ~ Janney et al.

I just have one question for Janney et al: Do you et al want me to vigorously workout before or after I take my daily dose of Seroquel? In other words, give me a medication regime that doesn’t include fatigue as a major side effect, and I’ll race you to the gym!

Can anyone relate?

Check out more posts on Bipolar Disorder:
Bipolar Disorder and Memory Problems
Impulsive Behavior and Substance Abuse in Bipolar Disorder
Jealousy and Poor Sense of Identity in Bipolar Borderline
Boredom – Is It Depression or Mania?

Are you newly diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder? Check out these videos from fellow peers with Bipolar as they give words of encouragement to let you know you are not alone even though “you’ve got this!” (a Healthline campaign.)

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