What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder characterized by repeated mood swings, also called episodes. A person with bipolar disorder will cycle between very elevated moods and very low moods.
Bipolar disorder is diagnosed based on symptoms, psychiatric history, and family history. There is no blood or brain scan to test for bipolar disorder. A brain tumor, stroke, or other medical conditions that might cause a disturbance of mood need to be ruled out first.
There are several types of bipolar disorder, with the most common being Bipolar I and Bipolar II. A person diagnosed with Bipolar I will cycle between episodes of depression and mania. With Bipolar II, a person will cycle between episodes of depression and hypomania.
Mania is characterized by extreme happiness, energy and excitement, restlessness, agitation, elevated sex drive, reduced need for sleep, rapid speech, irritability, poor concentration and judgment, and paranoia. Mania may last for a week or more.
Hypomania is a milder form of mania, which generally lasts for a shorter time. The symptoms may include feeling very excited, easily distracted with racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, irritability, agitation, and increased sex drive. A person in a hypomanic state might sleep very little, spend money excessively, talk rapidly or frequently, take risks, lose social inhibitions, and come across as extremely friendly.
The primary way to distinguish between Bipolar I and Bipolar II is that a person with Bipolar I has had emergency intervention due to their symptoms, such as a visit to the emergency department, an admission to a psychiatric hospital, or an encounter with law enforcement. In some cases, a person with Bipolar I will also experience psychosis, such as seeing or hearing things others don’t see or hear. In this case, their diagnosis is called Bipolar I with psychotic features.
If bipolar disorder is not treated, it tends to get worse. It is also very common for a person with untreated bipolar disorder to use drugs and alcohol to manage or mask the symptoms. This makes the symptoms worse while also adding to the problems caused by using and becoming an addiction to drugs and alcohol. So, it’s very vital to get treatment for bipolar disorder and any co-occurring substance use issues. When left untreated, bipolar disorder can result in severe depression and an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.