What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that has periods of depression and periods of mania.
Depression is feeling so sad you can’t do daily activities or don’t want to do things you used to enjoy.
Mania is a state in which you have abnormally high energy and confidence, are easily distracted, and make risky decisions.
Bipolar disorder usually starts when you're in your teens, 20s, or 30s
Bipolar disorder probably runs in families
Your mood will be mostly normal when you're not having a period of depression or mania
Doctors treat bipolar disorder with medicines and psychotherapy
There are 2 types of bipolar disorder, bipolar 1 and bipolar 2.
If you have bipolar 1 disorder, you have:
At least 1 period of mania that prevents you from doing daily activities and that may include delusions (when you can’t tell what is real)
Usually, periods of depression
If you have bipolar 2 disorder, you have:
At least 1 period of less severe mania (hypomania)
Periods of severe depression
What causes bipolar disorder?
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes bipolar disorder. Your genes (genetic information you get from your parents and grandparents) may play a role.
Periods of mania (manic episodes) can be triggered by:
Higher or lower levels of certain chemicals (neurotransmitters) in a person’s body—neurotransmitters are chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine that nerve cells use to send messages in the brain and body
Brain tumors or other brain disorders
A stressful event
Drugs, such as cocaine
Other health problems, such as thyroid problems
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
Periods (episodes) of depression or mania come and go. In between, your mood may be normal. Episodes of depression and mania can last a few weeks or up to 6 months.
Feeling very sad
Less interest in activities, even ones you used to enjoy
Thinking and moving slowly
Feeling hopeless and guilty
Sleeping more than usual
Seeing things that aren’t real
Feeling very confident and thinking you're your best self
Having lots of energy
Getting irritated easily
Sleeping less than usual
Getting distracted easily and changing from one activity to another
Taking part in risky activities, such as gambling or sex, without thinking about the effects
Sometimes seeing and hearing things that aren’t real
People with severe mania (manic psychosis) may have symptoms like:
False belief that they are special, such as that they are Jesus or a genius
Thinking people are after them, such as being watched by the FBI
Extreme activity, such as racing about, screaming, and singing
Not thinking or acting reasonably
People with severe mania need to go to the hospital right away.
How can doctors tell if I have bipolar disorder?
Doctors will suspect bipolar disorder based on the pattern of your symptoms. When you have mania, you may not be able to accurately report your symptoms because you don't think anything is wrong with you. So doctors may ask for information from family members.
Doctors may also do blood or urine tests to check if other medicines or health problems could be causing your symptoms.
How do doctors treat bipolar disorder?
Prescribe medicine, such as lithium or valproate
Provide group or individual counseling (psychotherapy)
If medicine doesn't help your depression, give electroconvulsive therapy (once called shock therapy)
In electroconvulsive therapy, your doctor will put you to sleep with medicines and then send an electric current through your brain. Doctors don't know why, but the electric current often helps depression go away.
If you have severe mania or depression or are taking risks that could result in serious problems, doctors may treat you in the hospital.