What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a type of mood disorder that affects all areas of life, including your mood, energy level, attention, and behaviors. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are classified into two types of mood episodes, known as depression and mania. Some people with the disorder only experience mania, while others experience symptoms of both mania and depression.1


What percentage of the population has Bipolar Disorder?

Roughly 2.6 percent of Americans will experience the disorder.2


What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar symptoms are classified into two types of mood episodes, known as mania and depression. When symptoms disrupt daily activities, work, and relationships, they are more likely to indicate the disorder is present.

A manic episode can include:3

  • increased talkativeness
  • increased self-esteem or grandiosity
  • decreased need for sleep
  • increase in goal-direct activity, energy level, or irritability
  • racing thoughts
  • poor attention
  • increased risk-taking (spending money, risky sexual behaviors, etc.)

A depressive episode can include:4

  • depressed mood
  • changes in sleep
  • changes in eating
  • fatigue or lack of energy
  • loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • restlessness or slowing down
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • indecision or difficulty concentrating
  • thoughts of suicide
Article continues below

Concerned about Bipolar Disorder?

Take our 2-minute Bipolar quiz to see if you may benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

Take Bipolar Quiz


What causes Bipolar Disorder?

There is no known exact cause for bipolar disorder. Researchers, however, do have a sense of what factors increase your risk of developing the disorder. The disease is highly heritable, so having a family member with the condition increases the risk greatly. Experiencing traumatic events can also increase risk. Though they do not cause the disorder, factors like drug and alcohol use and lack of sleep can also trigger the onset of a manic or depressive episode.5


How do I receive a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder?

A doctor, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional must evaluate whether your symptoms have reached the criteria of a manic or depressive episode, or both. They also will need to rule out whether the bipolar symptoms are caused by drug or alcohol use or another medical condition. People who are not receiving treatment for bipolar frequently use drugs or alcohol to cope with symptoms, so you may need medical assistance in detoxing from substances first before an official diagnosis can be made.


What’s the difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II?

If you’ve experienced the full criteria for a manic episode, you may get a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder. If you have manic symptoms but are not seriously impaired by them and have also experienced depression, you may receive a diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder. Finally, if you’ve experienced manic and depressive symptoms without meeting the requirements for a full manic or depressive episode, your doctor may diagnose you with Cyclothymic Disorder.6


When is the typical onset of symptoms for Bipolar Disorder?

The average age of symptom onset is 25, although children and teenagers also can develop symptoms.7


Can children be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder?

Symptoms of bipolar disorder typically emerge in early adulthood, but symptoms can also develop in childhood or the teenage years. Symptoms of the condition may manifest differently in children and teens, with irritability often replacing sad mood for depression or elevated mood for mania.8


Can Bipolar Disorder be cured?

Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition, meaning it lasts for a lifetime. But the condition is very treatable, and symptoms can be managed with the right combination of medication, therapy, and psycho-education.


What is the standard treatment for Bipolar Disorder?

Most people find that treating the symptoms of bipolar disorder requires a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and psycho-education. Sometimes substance use treatment, intensive outpatient programs, and hospitalization are necessary as well.


What are the risks of Bipolar Disorder?

People with the disorder are at higher risk for substance use, as people frequently use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.9 People experiencing a manic episode are also at increased risk for dangerous behaviors that lead to personal injury. People with bipolar disorder are also at higher risk of suicide, so it’s important to encourage loved ones to seek immediate treatment, call at hotline, or go the hospital if they experience thoughts of suicide.


Will I have to take medication for Bipolar Disorder?

Medication therapy is a very important component for stabilizing mood symptoms and managing the disorder. You may be prescribed mood stabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics, or anti-anxiety medication. It may take several tries to find the right medication with the fewest side effects, but don’t discontinue use of medication without consulting with your doctor.


How can I help a loved one with Bipolar Disorder?

Encourage your loved one to consult with their doctor about their concerns. Point out your observations about how the disorder may be affecting their daily life. If they are experiencing delusions, hallucinations, or thoughts of suicide, then seek help immediately. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or encourage them to go the nearest emergency room.


Article Sources
Last Updated: Feb 13, 2018