bipolar symptomsBipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme or long-term mood swings. The mood changes that people have affect every aspect of their lives, from energy and activity levels to thoughts, judgments, behaviors and their ability to sleep.

What Are Bipolar Disorders?

Bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depression. This term covered variations that are now recognized as different types of bipolar disorder.

People with a bipolar disorder share common symptoms. The defining symptom of all kinds of bipolar disorder is changes in mood, energy and activity. Periods of high energy and mood are called manic episodes. Periods of low activity, energy and mood are called depressive episodes. Some people have hypomanic episodes, which are a less extreme version of manic episodes.

The different kinds of bipolar disorder are classified based on the pattern of your manic and depressive episodes and how severe those episodes are.

Bipolar I Disorder

This is the “classic” type of bipolar disorder that most people think of when they hear the term. People with bipolar I have manic episodes that last for at least seven days, or are so severe that they need to be hospitalized or go to a treatment center.

Not everyone with this kind of bipolar disorder has depressive episodes, but most people do have episodes that last two weeks or more.

Some people have “mixed” episodes—symptoms of mania and depression at the same time.

Bipolar II Disorder

People with bipolar II have a pattern of hypomanic and depressive episodes. They don’t have the severe kind of manic episodes that someone with bipolar I experiences.

Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia)

When someone has bipolar disorder symptoms that don’t meet the diagnostic criteria of bipolar I or II, they might be diagnosed with cyclothymia. The main diagnostic criteria for cyclothymia are several periods of hypomania and depression over a period of two years or more.

Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders

This is a catch-all term for disorders that have bipolar symptoms but don’t meet the criteria for bipolar I, bipolar II or cyclothymia. It may also be diagnosed in someone who has bipolar-like symptoms for other reasons, such as substance abuse or addiction.

Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

The common medical view is that there’s no single cause of bipolar disorder. Instead, there are several contributing factors that are thought to modify the risk.

Genetics probably play a role, as certain genes increase the chance of having bipolar disorder. Someone is more likely to develop bipolar disorder if a parent or sibling has it.

There are other unknown causes of bipolar disorder too. It’s more complicated than just genetics and family history.

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The defining symptoms of bipolar disorder are episodes of mania and depression. These episodes vary depending on the type of bipolar disorder you have.

During a Manic Episode

  • Strong feelings of elation
  • Feeling full of energy
  • Higher activity level
  • Feeling jumpy, irritated or agitated
  • Insomnia or a decreased need for sleep
  • Talking quickly and frequently jumping to different topics
  • Being more impulsive than usual
  • High-risk behavior, like overspending or reckless sexual encounters

During a Depressive Episode

  • Feeling sad, empty, hopeless, guilty, ashamed or worried
  • Having no energy or less energy than normal
  • Lower activity level
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Unable to enjoy anything, or reduced enjoyment
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Thoughts about death or suicide

Psychosis

Some people have episodes of psychosis. These can occur during severe manic or depressive episodes. Most of the time, the psychosis is a function of the person’s mood.

For instance, if someone is in a manic phase, their psychosis might make them believe they’re a celebrity. In a period of depression, they might believe they’re destitute or homeless. Or they might think everyone who knows them hates them.

Hypomania

A hypomanic episode is like mania, but it’s less extreme. Someone having a hypomanic episode is often upbeat, energetic and productive. They don’t notice that they’re acting or feeling differently. In some people, hypomania is the prelude to a depressive or manic episode. People with bipolar II or cyclothymia have hypomanic episodes but don’t progress to full mania.

When Bipolar Is Misdiagnosed

Because bipolar disorder has several different elements, people sometimes get misdiagnosed with other mental health issues. Getting the right diagnosis is important, so you get the appropriate treatment.

Depression

One common misdiagnosis is depression. This can happen because people are more likely to seek help when they’re in a period of depression than during a manic episode. This means some people are diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) when they should have a bipolar diagnosis.

Depression is different than bipolar in that someone with depression doesn’t have manic or hypomanic episodes.

Borderline Personality Disorder

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are often misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. It’s less common, but still possible, for misdiagnosis to happen the other way around.

Misdiagnosis happens relatively often because these disorders share several symptoms:

  • Mood instability
  • Irritability
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Episodes of psychosis
  • Suicide attempts

Even so, there are some important differences. People with BPD have more rapid mood swings, up to several times a day. For people with bipolar disorder, highs and lows are less frequent and last a lot longer, sometimes several months. Another difference is that people with borderline personality disorder tend to think in black and white. This isn’t as common in people with bipolar disorder.

Schizophrenia

When a person with bipolar disorder experiences psychosis, it can lead to a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia because psychosis is common in this illness.

People with schizophrenia tend to have more severe, longer episodes of psychosis. They also have more disorganized thought patterns that affect their ability to take care of themselves. Other common symptoms include social withdrawal and a reduced ability to feel or express emotion.

Bipolar Disorders Are Treatable

Living with bipolar disorder is hard. With therapy and medication, you can manage your symptoms and live the life you want. Call Lucida at 844-874-8503 to find out more about your bipolar treatment options.

This entry was posted on April 18, 2019 and modified on April 19, 2019
Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC