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Don't Give Up On Your Health

A Toolbox for Taking Control - Part 1

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Updated March 19, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

People with serious mental illnesses are often in poorer health than the general population, for a variety of reasons. Some health problems are related to symptoms of the mental disorders.

Let's take a look at why people with bipolar disorder may have health issues, and what you can do about them. You don't have to let your physical health be ruled by your bipolar illness.

Health Problems Before Diagnosis

By the time you've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you may already have some issues with your physical health. Depression in particular can have a big impact, as it can cause such things as:
  • Increased or decreased appetite, leading to sometimes significant weight gain or loss

  • Desire for "comfort" foods that are often high in "empty" carbohydrates and sugar

  • Lethargy and fatigue that prevent you from exercising or even doing household chores

  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy, which might include physical activity

In addition, it's very common for people with bipolar disorder to be smokers (66% in one study), to drink alcohol to excess or to use illegal drugs - all of which take a toll on your health.

Don't Let Bipolar Rule Your Body

There are things you can do for your physical health. Are they easy? Probably you will find some more difficult than others. Are they worth it? Absolutely. Here are three of them.

1. Quit Smoking

Some people are able to throw their last packs away, and that's it. For others, giving up cigarettes is torture. The good news is that there are many more tools available today than there used to be. Check out About.com Guide Terry Martin's Quit Smoking Toolbox, which is a marvelous collection of resources and tips.

One warning: The anti-smoking drug Chantix can cause serious problems in people with mental illnesses. You should only take Chantix under the close supervision of a doctor. See Warning on Chantix and Psychiatric Issues.

2. Eliminate Alcohol/Substance Abuse

If you're a hard drinker, you're doing more than harming your body and brain. Alcohol can worsen your moods, both depressive and hypo/manic. Not only that, but take a look at your medications. How many of them say, "Do not take alcohol while taking this medication?"

If your meds are anything like mine, I'll bet at least half of them carry that warning. Do you know what you're risking?

Having a mental illness along with an alcohol or substance abuse problem is called "dual diagnosis." It's all too common in people with bipolar disorder. Sometimes people talk about self-medicating their symptoms. But you can help yourself. Take a look at these resources from About.com Alcoholism Guide Buddy T:

Also see Dual Diagnosis: When the Cure IS the Disease.

3. Don't Let Doctors Intimidate You

It's sad, but true, that doctors who know we have bipolar disorder sometimes don't take us seriously when we talk about physical issues. Don't let this happen to you. Read these stories from people who have been through bad experiences to get an idea of what can happen and what you can do to prevent it from happening to you. In Part 2 of this series, I'll address the need for exercise and give you a lot of reasons, plus some tools, to get started.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Bipolar Disorder
  4. Impact on Health
  5. Bipolar Disorder and Physical Health Problems - Don't Let Them Control You

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