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If you’re dealing with frequent shifts in mood, you might start to wonder if it’s just you or if your symptoms line up with bipolar disorder.
If you think it’s the latter, rest assured that you’re far from alone. Getting answers is the first step to feeling better, which is where we come in.
Bipolar disorder is a condition in the brain that causes intense shifts in mood and behavior, ranging from periods of very high energy to spells of deep depression.
It affects about 2.8 percent of adults in the United States, and men and women experience it in equal numbers.
Bipolar disorder can lead to changes in the way you go about your daily life. If left untreated, it can affect your workflow, sense of calm, and happiness.
Here are some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. If you notice any of these, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. After making a proper diagnosis, they’ll give you a customized treatment plan to get you back to living your best life.
People with bipolar disorder will experience strong deviations from their typical mood.
Here are some symptoms of a manic or depressive episode:
- feeling overly active and excited
- feeling irritable or jumpy
- high levels of anxiety
- strong urge to take risks
- talking fast
- extremely high productivity
- inability to concentrate
- sleeplessness without feeling tired
- excessive desire for food or sex
- aggressive behavior
These symptoms can last for weeks at a time before a person comes back “down.”
A doctor may be able to diagnose bipolar disorder when a manic episode lasts just 4 or fewer days, depending on which type of bipolar disorder it is (more on the types in a minute).
- deep sadness and feelings of depression
- excessive need to sleep
- loss of interest in food, sex, and other pleasurable activities
- decreased productivity and creative inspiration
- difficulty making decisions and concentrating on simple tasks
These, too, can last for weeks — to be classified as a depressive episode, the symptoms must last for at least 2 weeks.
If you feel overwhelmingly sad or think of harming yourself in any way, confide in someone you trust so they can help you take care of yourself.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, so don’t hesitate to call: 1-800-273-8255. You can also always call or visit your nearest emergency room to speak with a mental health professional on hand.
If you prefer to text, reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741-741.
Remember: You are not alone, and there are always people available to help you through these dark periods, no matter the time or place.
In case no one’s told you this today: You matter — and you deserve support when you feel like you need it.
Bipolar disorder comes on at different times of life in different people. The average age of onset is 25, but it can sometimes show up in teenagers and occasionally in younger children.
The symptoms are the same for every age group, but the disorder may be tougher to diagnose in children because it shares some symptoms with other conditions, such as ADHD.
Children with bipolar disorder might be hyperactive, oblivious to social norms, or unable to sleep on a consistent schedule. In between manic or depressive episodes, they’ll return to their normal pattern of behavior.
Bipolar disorder can take a few different forms.
First is bipolar 1, which causes people to experience strong manic episodes where they don’t sleep well, engage in risky behavior, and check a million things off their to-do list (too much productivity is not always a good thing).
These mood shifts are often so concerning that they require hospitalization. People with bipolar 1 inevitably come down from these manic periods, experiencing a sort of “low” but not always a full-blown depressive episode.
To be diagnosed with bipolar 1, a person must have a manic episode that lasts at least 4 days (or less time if the symptoms are so intense that it requires hospitalization).
Think of bipolar 2 as the opposite of this. To be diagnosed with this condition, a person must experience a hypomanic episode that lasts at least 4 days, with symptoms present for the most of the day. (“Hypomania” essentially means a lesser version of mania.)
These hypomanic episodes are noticeable but not extreme enough to interfere with daily life in any dangerous way. The hypomanic episode can be preceded or followed by a major depressive episode that lasts at least 2 weeks.
A hypomanic episode doesn’t always indicate bipolar disorder, but when combined with depressive episodes, it likely denotes bipolar 2. This condition can sometimes be misdiagnosed as depression since the “highs” aren’t quite as noticeable.
The third type of bipolar disorder is called cyclothymia. This type is considered less severe, mainly because the manic and depressive episodes aren’t quite as strong. But it’s still important to seek treatment to decrease your risk of developing bipolar 1 or 2.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists two additional types of bipolar disorder.
“Substance/medication-induced bipolar and related disorder” refers to cases in which the condition is brought on by drugs or alcohol.
And “bipolar and related disorder due to another medical condition” describes cases in which the symptoms come about as a result of a medical issue, such as Cushing disease.
If you think you might have bipolar disorder, take a look at your family history.
Though the exact cause of the condition is unknown, it may have a genetic component. If a close relative has bipolar disorder, you’re more likely to have it (though you also might have something totally different).
Some people might be tempted not to treat their bipolar disorder because they enjoy the feelings of euphoria that come along with manic episodes.
But if left untreated, bipolar disorder won’t improve on its own. And both the manic and depressive episodes can be dangerous to your physical and mental health.
Your best move is to seek help from a healthcare provider who is familiar with the ins and outs of bipolar disorder. Your provider will likely order a series of blood tests and scans to rule out any other potential health issues.
Because bipolar disorder can’t be diagnosed with one simple test, determining whether you have it can take some time, so try to be patient.
One known medical issue related to bipolar disorder is hypothyroidism. This occurs when your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones to regulate your energy, mood, and weight.
People with hypothyroidism can experience depressive episodes when their hormones are out of whack, which may resolve themselves as hormone levels shift. Your doctor might test your thyroid function to determine whether this is a problem.
Be sure to tell your doctor in as much detail as possible about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing — especially if they correspond with signs of bipolar disorder. (It may be helpful to keep a detailed log of your symptoms that you can bring with you.)
It can be scary to say all these things out loud to a stranger, but we promise no one’s judging you. Your doc genuinely wants to help, so don’t be shy! The more you can tell them, the better they’ll be able to treat you.
Since bipolar 2 can be easily misdiagnosed as depression, it’s important to be specific about what’s been going on.
Has your mood been changing rapidly? Does your depression only come on for weeks at a time? Do you ever feel manic? These are all questions to ask yourself (and explain to your doctor).
Your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist for a mental health and well-being examination. You may also be asked to track your mood changes in a journal to figure out which treatment will work best (remember that log we suggested?).
A bipolar disorder diagnosis will require you to look closely at your day-to-day patterns of thinking and behavior and how those patterns have changed over time — no detail is too small.
There’s no official cure for bipolar disorder, but it can absolutely be managed with a variety of treatments so it doesn’t interfere with your health and happiness.
After your diagnosis, your doctor will likely suggest medication to balance your mood.
Treatment could take one of the following forms:
- a mood stabilizer or an antipsychotic to calm down your manic episodes
- an antidepressant to help with your depressive symptoms
- interpersonal and social rhythm therapy to help you develop healthy routines that will stabilize your mood
- cognitive behavioral therapy to learn coping strategies for your difficult moments (this approach also tends to work well for children or teenagers with bipolar disorder)
- psychoeducation for you and family members to learn more about the condition, which will help you feel better equipped to manage it
Treatment may shift and change throughout your life as needed. Bipolar disorder can be difficult to manage, but remember that millions of people have learned how to stay healthy and live a balanced life with this condition.
Don’t be afraid to seek help when you need it, and arm yourself with knowledge so you can effectively find a treatment plan that suits your needs.