Testing a person to see if they have bipolar disorder isn’t as simple as taking a multiple-choice test or sending some blood to the lab. While bipolar disorder does cause certain physical symptoms, there is no single test to confirm a person has the condition. It often requires a combination of methods before a doctor will make a diagnosis.
If you are having noticeable symptoms that are disrupting your daily routine, you will likely see your primary care doctor first. He or she will conduct a physical examination to rule out any other conditions that could be causing symptoms similar to bipolar disorder. This could include lab tests to check for thyroid problems or pinpointing any certain prescription or recreational drugs that could cause fatigue, mania, depression, or other bipolar symptoms.
After your doctor rules out other possible causes, he or she will likely refer you to a mental health specialist for further evaluation.
Mental Health Evaluation
A psychiatrist or psychologist will likely ask the patient a series of questions to assess his or her mental health. Testing for bipolar disorder primarily involves questions about symptoms, their duration, and how they are disrupting quality of life. The doctor will also ask about certain risk factors of bipolar—including family history and a history of substance abuse.
The evaluation will generally include questions regarding both the mania and depression. It will be questions regarding their thoughts, feelings, thoughts of suicide, whether the person feels in control during manic periods, and how long the periods last.
A downfall of the interview—often the main component in making a diagnosis—is that a patient self-reports the information, so it’s possible some information could be withheld or embellished.
The doctor might also ask friends and family about a patient’s behavior, and whether there is a family history of bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses. The doctor will also take into account other aspects of a patient’s medical history and any medications he or she is currently taking.
The official criteria for bipolar disorder, as well as other mental disorders, are spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
While each type of bipolar disorder has some specific criteria, the main things a doctor will be looking for will include:
- At least one manic episode
- A depressive episode
Symptoms cause significant distress in social, occupational, or other areas.