Bipolar Disorder

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 1, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on July 1, 2014

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness marked by extreme shifts in mood ranging from a manic to a depressive state. Bipolar disorder is also called bipolar disease or manic depression.

A person with mania will feel excited, impulsive, euphoric, and full of energy. He or she might engage in risky or unhealthy behavior. Drug use, spending sprees, and impulsive or unprotected sex are common during manic episodes.

The depressive episodes might bring on deep sadness and hopelessness. Depression causes a loss of energy and interest in activities the patient once enjoyed. This phase can include periods of too little or too much sleep. Also, suicidal thoughts or attempts may come with deep depression.

Sometimes the shifts in mood can be severe. At other times one might experience a normal mood between episodes of depression and mania. People with bipolar disorder often have trouble managing everyday life. They may perform poorly at school or work. They may also have trouble maintaining personal relationships.

What Are the Types of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder will show at least one manic episode and one or more major depression episodes. Bipolar I disorder is equally common in men and women. The first episode in men is usually mania. In women, the first episode is typically major depression.

Bipolar II Disorder

People with bipolar II experience major depression. But instead of mania they experience hypomania. With hypomania, a person will still exhibit high energy, impulsiveness, and excitability. However, the mood is not as extreme as full-fledged mania, and these patients never experience hallucinations or delusions during a hypomanic episode. Bipolar II disorder is more common in women. In men, the number of hypomanic episodes usually equals or exceeds the number of depressive episodes. In women, the depressive episodes tend to be more dominant.

Cyclothymic Disorder

This is a “mild” form of bipolar disorder, with mood swings that are less severe and episodes shifting from hypomania to mild depression.

Rapid-Cycling Bipolar Disorder

This type of bipolar disorder causes rapid changes in mood. Sometimes a patient may have four or more episodes of major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed symptoms within a year. Some people experience more than one episode in a week or even within one day. Rapid cycling seems to be more common in people who have their first episode at a younger age. This type affects more women than men.

How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

Bipolar affects about 2.6 of the U.S. population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Bipolar disorder is challenging to diagnose because mood swings can vary. Studies show about one in three people diagnosed with major depression may actually have bipolar disorder. Also, 40 percent of people with bipolar disorder receive another diagnosis first. They could go several years before being correctly diagnosed.

Bipolar disorder is also tough to diagnose in children and adolescents. At this age, patients naturally have more erratic changes in mood, behavior, and energy levels than adults.

Left untreated, bipolar disorder tends to worsen. The disorder will show more frequent and severe episodes over time. If bipolar disorder is treated it is possible to lead a healthy and productive life.

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Article Sources:

  • Bipolar disorder: Symptoms. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved August 26, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bipolar-disorder/DS00356/DSECTION=symptoms
  • The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders iin America. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml
  • Bipolar Disorder. (n.d.). NIMH Statistics. Retrieved August 26, 2012, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/index.shtml
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