Bipolar disorder is often misunderstood, as the term is liberally used in everyday conversation to describe ambivalence or a volatile temper. Contrary to popular belief, bipolar disorder does not merely refer to indecisiveness or sudden bouts of anger.
Bipolar disorder, known initially as manic-depressive illness or manic depression, is a condition that causes sudden and drastic fluctuations in an individual’s mood, energy levels, activity levels, and ability to concentrate and complete daily tasks.
Bipolar disorder is not simply feeling happy one day and sad the next. People with bipolar disorder can experience various symptoms and a mix of emotions that can make it difficult for them to decipher what they are feeling and why.
Individuals with bipolar disorder typically experience periods of heightened mood, known as mania, followed by periods of depression. These mood changes can interfere with sleep, energy levels, mental clarity, judgment, and overall behavior.
While it’s common for our moods to change from day to day, extreme fluctuations in emotions, energy levels, and mood may signal bipolar disorder. Individuals with bipolar disorder are often described as having manic episodes where they are “up,” meaning in a state of elation, irritability, or hyperactivity, or depressive episodes where they are “down,” meaning in a state of sadness, indifference, fatigue, or hopelessness.
Symptoms of a manic or hypomanic (less intense mania) episode include:
Major depressive episodes tend to interfere with aspects of daily life, including work, school, and relationships. Symptoms of a major depressive episode include:
Bipolar disorder manifests differently in each individual. Some patients may experience mood shifts very rarely, while some may experience them several times a year. In addition to the above symptoms, some individuals with bipolar disorder may experience anxious distress, melancholy, and psychosis.
Bipolar disorder can be diagnosed at any age but is most commonly identified in people’s teens and early 20s. Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed when a patient has experienced at least one manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode. Because bipolar varies drastically from person to person, it can be hard to know when to see a doctor.
People with bipolar disorder often enjoy the symptoms of mania, such as euphoria and increased productivity. As a result, many people with bipolar disorder only seek help during depressive episodes, meaning the condition is often mistaken for major depression. It’s vital to know the difference, as antidepressants can trigger manic episodes in people with bipolar disorder.
Diagnosing bipolar disorder is a complex process. No single test, such as bloodwork or a brain scan, can be taken to diagnose the condition. Instead, diagnosis relies on a series of physical and psychiatric evaluations that offer insight into a patient’s condition.
As symptoms of bipolar disorder overlap with those of other conditions, such as anxiety, OCD, and personality disorders, your doctor may wish to perform a physical assessment to help rule out the possibility of another condition. In some cases, hormonal disorders like hypothyroidism can contribute to symptoms of a mood disorder.
Once your doctor has ruled out an underlying condition, they may refer you for psychiatric evaluation. To help with diagnosis, you may be asked to record your daily symptoms, including mood swings and sleep patterns.
Bipolar disorder has three main types:
Lesser-known forms of bipolar disorder exist, including alcohol-induced bipolar disorder and bipolar disorder related to an underlying medical condition like multiple sclerosis or stroke.
Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, treatments, including medication and psychotherapy, can help mitigate symptoms. Speaking with a doctor or mental health professional is the first step towards learning to live with your bipolar disorder.
During our initial assessments, we discuss symptoms, medical history, and family history to get a better picture of our patient’s condition. Our goal is to understand your situation as fully as possible so we can offer a personalized approach to bettering your mental health.
Depending on the nature of your bipolar disorder, we may prescribe any of the following treatments:
In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary. This typically occurs when a patient experiences suicidal thoughts, behaves dangerously, or experiences psychosis.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 immediately.