Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition marked by extreme swings in mood, energy, and the ability to function. The mood changes of bipolar disorder are more dramatic than normal ups and downs. They can hurt relationships and cause poor job or school performance.
The two mood extremes of bipolar disorder are mania and depression. In mania, one of the defining symptoms is an increase in energy and a decreased need for sleep. The mood may be overly happy or irritable. In
depression, a down mood with fatigue takes over, often accompanied by irritability.
There are 4 forms of this condition: Bipolar I disorder—Recurrent episodes of mania often immediately followed by depression; episodes can be severe.Bipolar II disorder—Episodes of less severe mania (called hypomania) that alternate with episodes of major depression.Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS)—The person has symptoms of bipolar disorder, but the symptoms do meet the specific criteria for bipolar I or bipolar II disorder.Cyclothymia—Episodes of hypomania that alternate with episodes of mild depression that last for at least 2 years.
The cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. This condition tends to run in families. Specific genes may play a role. It is most likely many different genes that act together.
Bipolar disorder may be a result of genetic influences on the brain.
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A family history of the disorder increases your chance of developing it. Tell your doctor if you have a family member with bipolar disorder.
Symptoms include: Dramatic mood swings—This can range from elated excitability, unrealistic goal setting, and an exaggerated sense of self to feelings of hopelessness.Periods of normal mood in between ups and downs.Extreme changes in energy and behavior.
Mania may cause: A mood that is extremely high or overly goodIncreased energy and effort toward goal-directed activitiesRestlessness and agitationRacing thoughts, jumping from one idea to anotherRapid speech or pressure to keep talkingTrouble concentratingDecreased need for sleepOverconfidence or inflated self-esteemPoor judgment, often involving spending sprees and sexual indiscretions
Depression may cause: Prolonged sad, hopeless, or empty moodFeelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessnessLoss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sexDecreased energy or fatigueTrouble concentrating, remembering, and/or making decisionsRestlessness or diminished movementsAgitationSleeping too much or too littleUnintended weight loss or gainThoughts of death or suicide with or without suicide attempts
Severe episodes of mania or depression may sometimes be associated with psychotic symptoms, such as: HallucinationsDelusionsDisorders of thought
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. In some cases, lab tests are ordered to rule out other causes of your symptoms. You may be referred to a mental health specialist. Diagnosis of bipolar disorder is based on: Presence of certain symptoms over timeAbsence of other causes, such as some medications and certain conditionsFamily history of bipolar disorder
Mania is diagnosed if:
Mood is elevated and there are 3 or more manic symptoms (listed above)
If the mood is irritable, not elevated, 4 symptoms must be present for a diagnosis of maniaSymptoms last for most of the day, nearly every day, for one week or longerSymptoms cause problems in day-to-day functioning
A depressive episode is diagnosed if: There are 5 or more of the depressive symptoms (listed above)Symptoms last for most of the day, nearly every day, for a period of 2 weeks or longerSymptoms cause problems in day-to-day functioning
Talk with your medical team about the best plan for you. Options may include one or more of the following:
The primary treatment is with medications called mood stabilizers. There are many different types and combinations of medications, which must be tailored by your doctor to target your symptoms. Examples of common medications used to treat bipolar disorder include: Mood stabilizersAntidepressantsAntiseizure medications
The plan is based on the pattern of the illness. Treatment may need to be continued indefinitely. It should prevent significant mood swings.
Psychotherapy is often an integral component of a comprehensive treatment plan. Therapy may include: Cognitive-behavioral therapy
CounselingFamily therapyInterpersonal and social rhythm therapy
Electroconvulsive therapy may be effective when medications fail. It can be used for both mania and depression.
There are no current guidelines to prevent bipolar disorder. Taking your daily medications and following your treatment plan can help prevent future mood swings.
Bipolar disorder fact sheet. National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Available at:
http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder. Updated April 2013. Accessed September 3, 2014.
Bipolar disorder in adults. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at:
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/complete-index.shtml. Updated 2012. Accessed September 3, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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