This page is for informational purposes only — if you need help for bipolar disorder, please contact Vertava Health to connect with a professional and receive individualized treatment and support today.

Overview Of Bipolar Disorder

In the past, bipolar disorder was called “manic depression.” Bipolar disorder involves mood swings which can include emotional highs, known as mania, and emotional lows or depression.

The characteristic mood swings of bipolar disorder may occur very rarely, or they can occur frequently or cyclically. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 2.8 percent of the population in the U.S. have symptoms of bipolar disorder.

The mood changes and swings of bipolar disorder can severely impact quality of life and the ability to work, study, or function well in social and family settings. Bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed during the teen years or in early adulthood, but symptoms can occur in children or in older adults.

Bipolar disorder can be treated and improved through a well-designed and managed treatment plan.

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Four Types Of Bipolar Disorder

The experiences of people with bipolar disorder are individual, but there are also four main types of the disorder. Each type is diagnosed depending on the length, type, and amount of manic or depressive episodic mood swings that are experienced.

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is diagnosed based on manic episodes that last at least seven days and are severe enough to require hospitalization. Depressive episodes also tend to last at least two weeks. Individuals may also experience periods of mixed manic and depressive symptoms.

Bipolar II Disorder

Individuals with bipolar II disorder have periods of depression alternating with periods of hypomanic symptoms, which are characterized by high energy or elation, but which fall short of full mania. This mania can be long-lasting or may require hospitalization.

Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia)

Cyclothymic disorder consists of longer-lasting periods of hypomania and depression, both of which fall short of the criteria for diagnosing a full manic or a major depressive episode. Cyclothymic moods can last for two years or longer in adults, or at least one year in adolescents.

Other Specified/Unspecified Bipolar Disorder

Individuals with a different pattern of hypomanic, manic, or depressive episodes than the criteria for the other three types of bipolar disorder are categorized as “other” or unspecified bipolar disorder.

Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder

The periods of intense positive and negative emotion that characterize bipolar disorder are called mood episodes.

Bipolar disorder can cause harmful, undesirable, and uncharacteristic behavior patterns or health effects. Physical symptoms can include sleep disturbances and a change in sleep patterns.

Symptoms of manic episodes include:

  • feeling elated, high, or highly energetic
  • irritability or “touchiness”
  • decreased need for sleep
  • loss of appetite
  • rapid talking and change of subjects
  • racing thoughts
  • risk-taking behavior
  • feelings of unusual power, importance, or achievement

In contrast, depressive episode symptoms include:

  • feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, and hopelessness
  • slowed reactions and apathy
  • sleeping either too much or too little
  • increased appetite and weight gain
  • slowed speech and thinking
  • difficulty concentrating
  • decreased interest in enjoyable activities, including lower sex drive
  • “anhedonia” or the inability to experience pleasure
  • thoughts of death and suicide

Mood episodes can be mixed, and symptoms may not be severe enough during mood episodes to require hospitalization.

Causes And Risk Factors

Neurological studies have discovered that the brains of people with bipolar disorder may differ from the brains of people who do not have the disorder. Research continues to discover how neurological differences can contribute to bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder may also have a genetic component because the disorder is more common in individuals who have a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) with bipolar disorder.

Risk factors for bipolar disorder can include high-stress experiences like losing a loved one, substance use disorders, and having a close relative who has the disorder.

How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose bipolar disorder, clinicians will perform lab tests to help rule out other illnesses or medications that can cause symptoms similar to bipolar disorder.

Clinicians likely use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), along with the patient’s history, to determine which type of bipolar disorder best fits the pattern of symptoms.

Co-Occurring Conditions

Some co-occurring conditions can exacerbate symptoms and may require simultaneous treatment with bipolar disorder. Co-occurring conditions include, but aren’t limited to:

Treating Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is an illness that lasts a lifetime, and effective individualized treatment plans are essential to treat the disorder. A combination of psychotherapy and counseling, along with prescription medications, can help to treat and manage symptoms.

In addition to prescribed medications and counseling, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) are potential treatments for severe forms of bipolar disorder.

Self-help measures include regular exercise and keeping a life chart that helps to track, identify, and manage symptoms. People with bipolar disorder may also experience long periods free of any symptoms.