Mania, or a manic phase, is a period of 1 week or more in which a person experiences a change in normal behavior that drastically affects their functioning. Mania is different from hypomania because hypomania does not cause a major deficit in social or occupational functioning, and it is a period of at least 4 days rather than 1 week. The defining characteristics of mania are increased talkativeness, rapid speech, decreased the need for sleep (unlike depression or anxiety in which the need for sleep exists, but there is an inability to sleep), racing thoughts, distractibility, increase in goal-directed activity, and psychomotor agitation. Some other hallmarks of mania are an elevated or expansive mood, mood lability, impulsivity, irritability, and grandiosity. If the individual experiencing these symptoms requires hospitalization, then this period automatically qualifies as true mania and not hypomania, even if the symptoms are present for less than one week.
Mania must be distinguished from heightened energy and altered functioning that arises from substance use, medical conditions or other causes. Mania is a "natural" state which is the characteristic of bipolar I disorder. A single manic phase is sufficient to make the diagnosis of bipolar I disorder, although most cases of bipolar I also involve hypomanic and depressed episodes.
Many families bring their loved ones to the emergency room due to the excessive behavioral changes they have noticed over a brief period. Patients amid a manic phase commonly engage in goal-directed activities that may result in harmful consequences, such as spending excessive money, starting businesses unprepared, traveling, or promiscuity. Many patients engage in property damage or even harm themselves or others through verbal or physical assaults. They may also become highly aggressive, agitated, or irritable. Although the patient may have poor insight and may not recognize they are behaving out of the norm, it becomes apparent to family or friends that this behavior may be due to mental illness.
Mania also commonly presents with psychotic features, which include delusions or hallucinations. Many patients endorse grandiose delusions, believing they are high-level operatives such as spies, government officials, members of secret agencies, or that they are knowledgeable professionals (even when they have no such background). These individuals may also experience auditory or visual hallucinations, which only present when they are in the manic phases. Some of the most common delusions are delusions of paranoia, in which patients believe that people are stalking, targeting, or surveilling them. They may believe this to be done by government agencies, gangs, or others. These patients are highly unlikely to respond to outsiders’ views on their psychosis as well as their mania. A component of the manic phase is that generally, the individuals themselves do not realize what is happening (poor insight). The problem is mainly noticed by others, including family members, friends, and even strangers or police.
Rapid cycling in bipolar disorder is defined as having at least 4 or more mood episodes in a 12-month period. These mood episodes may be manic, hypomanic, or depressive but must meet their full diagnostic and duration criteria. These episodes must be separated by periods of partial or full remission of at least 2 months or be separated by a switch to an episode of opposite polarities, such as mania or hypomania to major depressive episode. Switching from mania to hypomania or vice-versa would not qualify because they are not opposite polarity. Rapid cycling bipolar disorder patients have been found to be more resistant to pharmacotherapy.
The etiology of mania, and more generally, bipolar I disorder, is not known. There is strong evidence that the cause is a combination of genetic, psychological and social factors. There have been multiple studies involving families which show a definite genetic component. In a study involving monozygotic and dizygotic twins, it was revealed that there is a correlation of one twin having the disorder when the other is affected, as high as 40%. This is also evidence of environmental influences since there is not a 100% concordance between monozygotic twins. Multiple studies have shown that several allele frequencies are involved in both bipolar I disorder and schizophrenia. There is also extensive anecdotal evidence that stressful life events and other psychosocial factors contribute to the onset and frequency of manic phases.
Mania is the diagnostic criteria for bipolar I disorder, so the epidemiology of bipolar I disorder also tells us about the prevalence of mania. The lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder is about 4 per cent. Men and women are equally likely to be affected. However, women are much more likely to experience many mood episodes in a given year (rapid cycling). The median age of onset of bipolar disorder is around age 25. Men typically have an earlier age of onset than women. Studies have shown that men usually initially present with a manic episode while women present with a depressive episode. Almost two-thirds of bipolar patients have at least 1 close relative who was also diagnosed with the disease or with unipolar depression.
The pathophysiology of mania and bipolar disorder, in general, has been shown in some studies to involve specific brain regions; however, the exact mechanisms involved are still unknown. In functional studies as well as structural studies, bipolar disorder patients have shown alterations in the amygdala, hippocampus, basal ganglia, prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate. The amygdala is hyperactive in patients with BD, and the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are hypoactive. This increased activity in the amygdala along with decreased activity in cortical regions may be the reason why the executive function is impaired in mania while the emotions are heightened and unrestrained.
The taking the history of a patient with suspected mania requires asking about the primary characteristics of mania such as a recent change in sleep, activity, appetite, irritability, among others. The common mnemonic "DIG FAST" is used to aid clinicians in remembering to ask about Distractibility, Irresponsibility or Irritability, Grandiosity, Flight of ideas, increased Activity, decreased Sleep and excessive Talkativeness. The evaluation must include the full DSM-5 criteria. As listed in the DSM-5, a manic episode is diagnosed if the patient experiences an abrupt change in mood described as euphoric or angry that lasts at least one week, or any amount of time if the patient requires hospitalization.
When a patient presents with mania, there should be an extensive evaluation to rule out other differentials. A complete blood count (CBC), complete metabolic panel (CMP), thyroid panel, and a urine drug screen are some of the basic laboratory values needed in assessing a manic patient. Brain imaging in the form of a CT or MRI would be important in determining any organic cause of manic symptoms, especially in elderly or very young patients (>60 or <13 years old).
In general, a manic patient should be treated with both a medication that alleviates the acute mania, such as olanzapine, risperidone, or haloperidol and also a medication for stabilization to prevent future mood episodes, such as lithium or valproic acid.
Mania in bipolar I disorder was first treated with medications such as lithium, valproic acid, and carbamazepine. The treatments were focused on mood stabilizers and anticonvulsants which had shown efficacy in mood stabilization. As more studies and more medications became available, it became clear that antipsychotics were also beneficial in the treatment of acute mania, especially the second-generation antipsychotics. A large metanalysis of medications used in acute mania showed that atypical antipsychotics were more effective than mood stabilizers for this purpose but not necessarily for maintenance of bipolar disorder. The most effective medications are risperidone, olanzapine, and haloperidol. Lithium, quetiapine, and aripiprazole were comparatively effective. Valproic acid, carbamazepine, and ziprasidone were more efficacious than placebo but less so than their previously mentioned competitors. Gabapentin, lamotrigine, and topiramate showed no difference when compared to placebo for treating mania. Clozapine and electroconvulsive therapy have shown much benefit for treatment-resistant mania but are less commonly used. Lastly, psychoeducation and psychotherapy are powerful long-term tools for patients with bipolar disorder as well as for their families or caregivers.
There are numerous differential diagnoses in the assessment of patients who present with symptoms like mania. Patients can be exhibiting numerous other physiologic and psychiatric disorders. One of the most common situations that may mimic mania is caffeine or other stimulant intoxication, especially cocaine, amphetamine (including methamphetamine), PCP, and nicotine. Hallucinogens can also produce similar symptoms. Excessive steroid and human growth hormone use may lead to aggression, irritability, anxiety and may look very similar to mania. The main mental illnesses which mimic bipolar mania are schizophrenia, severe anxiety, severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, or major depressive disorder with psychotic features. Any mixed mood disorder should be in the differential for bipolar disorder, especially when psychosis is present. Personality disorders such as histrionic and borderline personality can have similar presenting symptoms to phases of bipolar, including mood lability, anger dysregulation, inappropriate and outlandish dress, as well as bizarre behavior. Physiologic conditions that may mimic mania include hyperthyroidism, hypertensive urgency, hypercortisolemia, hyperaldosteronism, masses or tumors in the brain, major neurocognitive disorders, acromegaly, and delirium.
The prognosis of manic patients is favorable, granted they are adherent to medications and therapy. Some factors associated with a poorer outcome are a history of abuse, psychosis, low socioeconomic status, comorbid illness, or a young age of the first onset.
One of the major illnesses which may mimic bipolar disorder and have manic-like symptoms is cyclothymic disorder. Cyclothymic patients may have large mood swings which do not meet the full criteria for a manic or hypomanic episode. These patients may also have many periods of depression. The criteria for cyclothymic disorder involve having many hypomanic or depressed symptoms on and off for at least 2 years that do not remit for more than 2 consecutive months. The symptoms in cyclothymia must cause significant social or occupational impairment and cannot be better explained by substance abuse.