Bipolar Disorder Shrinks Brain Tissue, Affects Memory
> 7/20/2007 2:50:11 PM

Beyond its detrimental periods of alternating depression and elation, bipolar disorder has been shown to negatively affect memory and emotional comprehension. Recent studies suggest that these deficits come from an actual physical reduction in active brain tissue - a "shrinking" of the brain.

Of course, the gradual loss of brain tissue is a natural side-effect of aging that may be exacerbated by drugs and alcohol, Alzheimer's disease, and less obvious culprits (such as that old standby, obesity). But, while researchers involved in the newest studies couldn't quite determine whether this shrinkage was a causal element or a side-effect of the disease, they observed an excelerated rate of tissue loss in subjects affected by the disorder. This loss was particularly rapid in those suffering from the most extreme forms of mania and depression. The exact reason for this pattern was not clarified, but scientists suggested a genetic link as the offspring or siblings of bipolar victims often display a greater predisposition toward the disease. The chronic anxiety associated with bipolar disorder may also directly cause the gradual deterioration of severely stressed tissues.

The condition, which affects approximately 3 percent of the adult population, has long been understood to interfere with issues of concentration and produce notable attention deficits, particularly during its frantic upswing periods. It does not hinder one's ability to recognize individual faces, but makes distinguishing the emotions conveyed by those faces more difficult. A persistent state of confusion may be apparent to outside observers, and productivity and reliability predictably suffer among individuals diagnosed with the condition, who often encounter difficulty in processing and retaining new information. Those most affected usually have trouble staying employed or remaining in particular positions as they age, which may in large part be due to the brain damage and emotional instability wrought by years of suffering under the influence of bipolar disorder. Many such individuals will never become self-sufficient and spend the majority of their lives in assisted living situations. The suicide rate among bipolar patients is, at 15%, exponentially higher than the same number among any other subset of the general population, and up to 50% attempt to kill themselves at least once. If anything, this study reaffirms the devastating nature of the disease and will, hopefully, serve to even further emphasize the absolute necessity of treatment for anyone affected by it. Successful drug and therapy combinations are too numerous to mention, but frustration with a perceived lack of results should in no way dissuade individuals from seeking further treatment. Fighting this deadly disease entails a lifelong struggle.


I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder a little over five years ago, after an initial diagnosis of depression and generalized anxiety. I was not treated for either until I reached the age of 39, and I'm now 47. I can remember having significant periods of fear, anxiety, etc, as a small child; my earliest memory of this was when I was seven years old. I'm currently on Effexor, Lamictal, Klonipin, and Remeron, and also take Prinzide for hypertension. My current problem is that I'm becoming more and more forgetful and easily confused, especially if there's ANY alteration to my daily and weekly schedule, even if it's a good/positive or normal change. I'm having trouble keeping track of scheduled events at work, and paying bills or using the computer is a nightmare. I've also been exceedingly sleepy--not fatigued, sleepy. I could sleep all day if I had the time to do so. I'm not feeling any symptoms of depression, although I have been doing some cycling into and out of hypomania.I don't know what to do about this problem, and it seems to be getting worse. I see my shrink in a couple of weeks, but am looking on the 'net for additional information. I don't drink or use street drugs, and I'm morbidly obese. Any input from anyone?
Posted by: Beth 7/25/2007 12:08:39 PM

God Bless you. I'll keep you in my prayers. I know many people that have the same condition. Have you considered joining any support groups.Take care
Posted by: Paul 7/25/2007 5:04:25 AM

Hi Beth, I also have bipolar disorder. I am not a psychologist, and the only expertise I have comes from my own condition. However, it sounds to me like you might be experiencing a mixed state. I spend most of my life in a mixed state, (features of both depression and mania occuring at the same time). You might ask your therapist if he or she has noticed anything. For me personally, when I become very sleepy, irritable, and cannot concentrate it is a sure sign of a mixed state. -Greta
Posted by: Greta 8/9/2007 5:51:08 AM

I was diagnose bipolar when I was 13 years old however according to my different doctors it all started when I was 11. I've been under treatment since I'm 13. Currently I'm 20. Like a normal person I have memories of moments along my life, but sometimes when I speak about them, any of them I start listening people saying, things were not that way, or a common phrase, That never happened. I guess my head keeps screwing up, listening to voices and inventing it's own memories. I will see my doctor again in a couple of days, but this is frustrating and scary. Just yesterday I tried to kill myself, after a fight I got with a member of my family. I spoke with her today and imagine my surprise when I heard things were not like that... I don't know anymore what happens in my head, specially because there where a couple of people around us and they confirm her statement. Is scary not to know when your memories are real... not to know if you are able to trust your own head. If you are not able to trust yourself then can I trust?
Posted by: Suzukah 3/1/2008 12:18:23 PM

I have been diagnosed with bipolar for over 20 years now. As I get older I seem to be forgetting more and more. Like having conversations or trying to speak and words come out jumbled up or I cant think of words I am very familar with.But other times I am on top of my game and can speak very intelligently. I call people by wrong names, when Im looking right at them. Can look all around the room and look right over them. I can be holding a child and forget who it is in my hand when someone says something about them. I don't recall having conversations with someone within just a few minutes sometimes. Has anyone else had these symptoms. I keep telling my doctor but I cant seem to get any resolutions. I have switched med.s', doses, sleeping pills- several times. Dr. keeps saying cause Im not sleeping. But I take sleeping pills now and I do sleep and its getting worse. I can sit down and fall right to sleep. I am getting really scared., I do not feel sad but it seems it is worse when I have alot going on around me. Help! Please give suggestions and wether there is something someone knows about that can help me with this. thanks
Posted by: sandra 4/16/2008 10:21:43 AM

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