Bipolar disorder, with its extreme mood swings from depression to mania, used to be called manic depressive disorder. Bipolar disorder is very serious and can cause risky behavior, even suicidal tendencies.
Bipolar Disorder Basics
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that is characterized by extreme changes in mood, from mania to depression. It can lead to risky behavior, damaged relationships and careers, and even suicidal tendencies if it's not treated.
Bipolar Children and Teens
Although bipolar disorder is more common in older teenagers and young adults, it can affect children as young as 6. Some experts believe the condition is rare and over-diagnosed; others disagree.
Bipolar and Women
In general, women tend to experience more periods of depression than men, research shows. Women are also at higher risk for rapid cycling, which means having four or more mood episodes in one year.
ADHD or Bipolar?
Bipolar disorder and ADHD are being diagnosed more often in American children and teens. There are some similarities in symptoms, so how can a doctor know for sure if the child has bipolar disorder or ADHD?
Bipolar TV: Learn More, Live Better
Catch every episode of Bipolar TV and get not just the basics, but in-depth stories about people living successfully with bipolar disorder. Also see expert interviews that answer questions about triggers, work, marriage, medications, treatment options, and more.
Health Check: Feeling the Ups and Downs of Bipolar?
Whether you have bipolar disorder or are concerned about someone who does, WebMD’s Bipolar Disorder Health Check allows you to easily and discreetly assess symptoms, treatments, lifestyle issues, and more.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
Doctors don't completely understand the causes of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder often runs in families, and researchers believe there is a genetic component.
Are You at Risk?
Bipolar Disorder: Who’s at Risk?
About 5.7 million U.S. adults are living with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally, as well as all races, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic classes.
Although bipolar disorder cannot be prevented, early recognition of bipolar warning signs and seeing your doctor regularly can allow you to monitor your mood and medications and keep the illness from escalating.
Symptoms & Types
Bipolar is a complex illness. There are many different symptoms -- and several different types -- of bipolar disorder. The primary symptoms of the disorder are dramatic and unpredictable mood swings. The various types of bipolar disorder range from mild to severe.
The primary symptoms of bipolar disorder are dramatic and unpredictable mood swings.
Mania symptoms may include excessive happiness, excitement, irritability, restlessness, increased energy, less need for sleep, racing thoughts, high sex drive, and a tendency to make grand and unattainable plans.
Depression symptoms may include sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of energy, uncontrollable crying, change in appetite causing weight loss or gain, increased need for sleep, difficulty making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide.
There are several types of bipolar disorder; all involve episodes of depression and mania to a degree. They include bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder, mixed bipolar, and rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.
A person affected by bipolar I disorder has had at least one manic episode in his or her life. A manic episode is a period of abnormally elevated mood, accompanied by abnormal behavior that disrupts life.
Bipolar II is similar to bipolar I disorder, with moods cycling between high and low over time. However, in bipolar II disorder, the "up" moods never reach full-on mania.
In rapid cycling, a person with bipolar disorder experiences four or more episodes of mania or depression in one year. About 10% to 20% of people with bipolar disorder have rapid cycling.
In most forms of bipolar disorder, moods alternate between elevated and depressed over time. But with mixed bipolar disorder, a person experiences both mania and depression simultaneously or in rapid sequence.
Cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder) is a relatively mild mood disorder. People with cyclothymic disorder have milder symptoms than in full-blown bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder Complications
Self-injury, often referred to as cutting, self-mutilation, or self-harm, is an injurious attempt to cope with overpowering negative emotions, such as extreme anger, anxiety, and frustration. It is usually repetitive, not a one-time act.
Bipolar Warning Signs
When a person's illness follows the classic pattern, diagnosing bipolar disorder is relatively easy. But bipolar disorder can be sneaky. Symptoms can defy the expected manic-depressive sequence.
Emergencies & Suicide Prevention
Suicide is a very real risk for people with bipolar disorder, whether they're in a manic or depressive episode -- 10%-15% of people with bipolar disorder kill themselves. But treatment greatly lowers the risk.
Diagnosis & Tests
Doctors have come a long way in understanding different moods in bipolar disorder and in making an accurate diagnosis. A bipolar disorder diagnosis is made only by taking careful note of symptoms, including their severity, length, and frequency.
Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder
With the greater understanding of mental disorders today, doctors can identify the signs and symptoms of bipolar depression, hypomania, and mania; and most cases can be treated effectively and safely with bipolar medications
Treatment & Care
The best treatment for bipolar disorder is a combination of medication and counseling. Doctors often treat the mania symptoms associated with bipolar disorder with one set of drugs, and use other drugs to treat depression. Certain drugs are also used for "maintenance" -- to maintain a steady mood over time.
Treatment for bipolar disorder most often includes a combination of a mood-stabilizing drug and psychotherapy. Although drug treatment is primary, ongoing psychotherapy is important to help patients better cope with the condition.
If you have bipolar disorder, you will probably need medication. In reality, you may need bipolar medication for the rest of your life.
Along with medication, ongoing psychotherapy, or "talk" therapy, is an important part of treatment for bipolar disorder. During therapy, you can discuss feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that cause you problems.
Treating Bipolar Mania
If you are suffering from mania, your doctor may initially treat you with an antipsychotic drug, benzodiazepine, and/or lithium to quickly control hyperactivity, sleeplessness, hostility, and irritability. Your doctor will also likely prescribe a mood stabilizer.
Treating Bipolar Depression
Today, the recommended treatments for bipolar depression may include lithium, an anticonvulsant, an antipsychotic medication, or a combination of these medications -- all with the goal of modulating moods without igniting a manic episode.