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Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder
by Amy Scholten, MPH
Bipolar disorder cannot be identified physiologically. That means it cannot be found by things like blood tests or brain scans. It is diagnosed based on symptoms and course of illness. When available, family history plays a role in diagnosis. The diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5).
Bipolar disorder is often diagnosed based on the following:
Mania could be diagnosed based on an abnormally elevated mood. It must last at least one week. It also must occur with 3 or more of the other symptoms of mania. If your mood is irritable, 4 additional symptoms must be present.
Depression is diagnosed based on depressed mood or loss of interest in pleasure. It must occur every day, or nearly every day. This must last 2 weeks, and be accompanied by 5 or more of the symptoms.
A diagnostic evaluation may include a mental status exam. This helps determine if your speech, thought patterns, or memory have been affected. Sometimes this happens in the case of bipolar disorder.
You may also be evaluated for other psychiatric conditions. These include anxiety disorders, or alcohol or drug use disorders. You will also be evaluated for other potential medical and neurological causes for your symptoms.
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Bipolar disorder in adults. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated November 2015. Accessed September 12, 2016.
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Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
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Last reviewed September 2016 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 9/17/2014
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