Nidal Moukaddam, MD, PhD, presents the case of a 30-year-old male diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and shares her initial impressions on diagnosis.
Nidal Moukaddam, MD, PhD: Today, we’re going to talk about a new case. A 30-year-old man has taken short-term disability leave from work due to the progression of a depressive episode. He received a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder about 10 years ago. He had his first episode of mania at the age of 20 and 2 subsequent episodes of mania between the ages of 21 and 29. He was treated with lithium, which was highly effective, but he experienced excessive thirst and developed hyperthyroidism. His lithium level at the time was in the therapeutic range of 0.8 mEq/L. He was switched to valproate; however, valproate lacked the efficacy of lithium and caused adverse effects of sedation and weight gain. During his third manic episode, he started on olanzapine but experienced excessive weight gain. He was then cross-titrated to quetiapine, which improved his manic symptoms. However, weight gain again became an adverse effect, and he also complained of sedation. The patient reported sleeplessness and made unnecessary online purchases when unable to sleep, but the quetiapine sleepiness was unacceptable. Despite these adverse effects, he continued taking] quetiapine until he decompensated into his third depressive episode. The quetiapine was then augmented with lamotrigine, which was titrated up to 300 mg per day but demonstrated no efficacy. At the time of presentation, the patient was adhering to the medications. He did not have a substance use disorder, which was confirmed by a negative toxicology screen. His TSH [thyroid-stimulating hormone] level was in the middle of the normal range, and he had no suicidal ideations or psychotic symptoms.
I think the most important thing to do when somebody comes to you, even if they tell you they have a diagnosis, is to confirm the diagnosis. You want to start by making up your own mind, and sometimes the patient is not a good source of information. But in the case of bipolar disorder without psychosis, you expect the patient to be able to give you a solid history. Typically, the part of the history that’s hardest to nail down is mania. When people experience mania, they have excessive energy and excessive activation that creates the need for sleep, and sometimes they like it. They feel that this is the way it should be, so they don’t point it out as pathological. Now, the DSM-5 [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition] criteria tell us that mania that leads to hospitalization or some negative consequence like incarceration is problematic no matter what the duration is. Assuming the patient did not end up in the hospital or in prison, we want to verify the story of mania. In the current case presentation, I can see many of my colleagues saying, “Hey, you’re not giving us enough symptoms of mania. He’s a bit sleepless. He makes frivolous purchases. That’s bipolar disorder but not bipolar I; maybe it’s bipolar II.”
Thus, my first step would be to explain that this patient had at least a week without sleep. During that week, he was spacing, had pressured speech, and was talking fast to the point that others around him commented about it. He became more impulsive, and buying things was the tip of the iceberg. He also became more sexual to the point where it got him in trouble in his relationships, he spent more money than he had planned, etc. These examples of impulsivity often nail down the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Of course, these symptoms change with the time that we live in. For example, before unlimited plans on cell phones, you would have been taught to ask: “Do you get a very high bill on your phone when you’re manic?” Because patients with mania talk a lot, and the bills would be higher when they call across state lines or internationally. First, I would recommend verifying the diagnosis. My impression of the patient is that this is somebody with a set diagnosis of bipolar I. Three manic episodes is a lot. He has impairment because of it, and it’s affected his job. Thus, my first step is confirming the diagnosis. My second would be a lot of psychoeducation; make sure that the patient understands what he’s up against and why he needs treatment.
Transcript Edited for Clarity