Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition marked by extreme swings in mood and energy. It can affect the ability to function normally. The mood changes of bipolar disorder are more severe 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. Mania 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 heavy fatigue takes over. Irritability is common with depression too.
There are 4 forms of bipolar disorder:
Bipolar I disorder—Repeated episodes of mania often immediately followed by depression These episodes can be severe.
Bipolar II disorder—Episodes of less severe mania (called hypomania) that rotate with episodes of major depression.
Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BP-NOS)—bipolar disorder that does not fit the description of bipolar I or bipolar II disorder.
Cyclothymia—Episodes of hypomania that alternate with episodes of mild depression that lasts for at least 2 years.
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 time
Absence of other causes such as some medications, hormone imbalances, and certain neurologic conditions
Family 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 mania
Symptoms last for most of the day, nearly every day, for one week or longer
Symptoms cause problems in day-to-day duties
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 longer
Talk with your medical team about the best plan for you. Options may include one or more of the following:
The primary treatment is medication called mood stabilizers. There are many different types and combinations of medications. Your medical team will work to find the best combination for you and your pattern. Examples of common medications used to treat bipolar disorder include:
Antidepressants—only during depressive episodes
Treatment should prevent significant mood swings. It may take some time to find the best combination.
Psychotherapy is often an important part of the treatment plan. It can give patients and their families support and guidance. Therapy may include:
Bipolar disorder. National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Available at: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder. Updated August 2017. Accessed October 3, 2017.
Bipolar disorder in adults. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml. Updated November 2015. Accessed October 3, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 2/6/2018
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