Bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose.

Unless you have severe mania, in which case the signs are unmistakable, the symptoms can be hard to spot. People who have hypomania, a milder form of the manic side, may only feel more energized than usual, more confident and full of ideas, and able to get by on less sleep-and hardly anyone complains about that. You're more likely to seek help if you're suffering from depression, but then your doctor may not catch the manic side. If you're worried that you or a loved one may have bipolar disorder, the best thing to do is educate yourself about the different types of the illness and their symptoms. Here's what to look for.

Kinds of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is marked by extreme mood swings from highs to lows. These episodes can last hours, days, weeks, or months. The mood swings may even become mixed, so you might feel like crying over something upbeat. The most common kinds of bipolar disorder fall into these two categories:

  • Bipolar I: This is the classic form of the illness. Bipolar I leaves no doubt as to whether someone is in a manic phase, as their behavior quickly escalates until they are out of control. If left untreated, the person could end up in the emergency room or worse.
  • Bipolar II: Four times more common than Bipolar I, Bipolar II is characterized by much less severe manic symptoms. These signs are harder for people to see in themselves, and it's often up to friends or loved ones to encourage them to get help. Without proper treatment, hypomania often becomes worse, and the patient can become severely manic or depressed.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

According to the National Institute of Mental Health and other authorities, bipolar disorder may include these warning signs:

Seven Signs of Bipolar Mania

  1. Feeling overly happy or optimistic for long stretches of time
  2. Feeling easily agitated-some describe it as feeling jumpy or "twitchy"
  3. Talking fast
  4. Restlessness or impulsiveness
  5. Impaired judgment
  6. Over-confidence
  7. Engaging in risky behavior, such as having impulsive sex, gambling one's savings, or going on big spending sprees

Seven Signs of Bipolar Depression

  1. Feeling sad or worried for long periods
  2. Withdrawal from friends and family and a loss of interest in activities
  3. Loss or increase in appetite
  4. Fatigue
  5. Slow speech
  6. Problems with memory and concentration
  7. Thoughts or attempts of suicide

What to Do

Call your doctor if you see any of these signs in yourself or a loved one. People with bipolar disorder often tend to deny any problems, especially during manic episodes, but don't let them fool you. Think of bipolar disorder as any other serious disease, and get help right away. With the right treatment, bipolar disorder can be controlled and the patient can go on to enjoy life.