What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a disorder associated with episodes of mood swings characterized by extreme emotional cycles; sometimes, these cycles occur very rapidly.

Typically, these mood cycles are mania (intense happiness and activity) and depression (extreme sadness and hopelessness). If you have a bipolar disorder, you can feel on top of the world and full of energy one day, and down in the dumps and exhausted the next. 

Three of the common types of bipolar disorders are Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic disorder.

Bipolar I - Manic episodes will last for at least seven days/one week and include severe symptoms, like delusions/psychosis, violence, lessened need for sleep, engaging in activities with serious consequences, and more. Depressive episodes last for at least two weeks. A person's mood cycles may fluctuate when they have Bipolar I. This type of bipolar disorder affects women and men equally. 

Bipolar II - This is similar to bipolar I, but the mood elevations are less frequent or severe; these hypomanic episodes generally last at least four days. Individuals with Bipolar II may experience more depressive episodes than hypomanic episodes. This type of bipolar disorder affects more women than men.

Cyclothymic disorder (also called cyclothymia) - You may experience multiple cycles of manic and depressive episodes over a period of at least two years, but your episodes do not meet the criteria for another type of bipolar disorder or major depressive disorder.

Bipolar disorders can appear in individuals of any age or gender, but typically are first diagnosed in young adulthood. 

Bipolar Disorders Symptoms

Each of the three most common types of bipolar disorder has its own unique profile of symptoms. Individuals with bipolar disorder may experience mood fluctuations. You may only have a few episodes of mood cycling a year, or your symptoms may be more intense and require more frequent monitoring. Only your doctor or therapist can determine which type of bipolar disorder you or a loved one may have, and help you begin treatment. Each type of bipolar disorder is treated differently.

Common symptoms of a manic episode in bipolar disorders include:

  • Unexplained sudden bursts of energy
  • Rapid speech that jumps from topic to topic
  • Paranoia and suspiciousness
  • Hysterical crying or screaming for no apparent reason
  • Physical violence or graphic threats of violence toward people, even loved ones
  • A belief that you have special abilities that make you better than other people
  • Unexplained sleep changes, such as sleeping very little 
  • Inflated or exaggerated self-esteem
  • Racing thoughts, impatience, and distractibility
  • A sudden increase in focused activities like art projects, games, or home improvement
  • Impulsive high-risk behaviors including spending sprees, unsafe sex, and drug use
  • Hallucinations or delusions

Common symptoms of a depressive episode in bipolar disorders include:

  • Restlessness and lethargy, unexplained exhaustion, listlessness
  • A sudden loss of interest in activities that you enjoy
  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or planning - seek immediate medical care by calling 911
  • Problems concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and social situations
  • Increased alcohol consumption or drug use
  • A sudden lack of personal hygiene, rapid weight loss or gain, and changes in usual grooming or eating habits
  • An unexplainable feeling of impending doom or that you’ve done something terrible and deserve punishment or retribution

Bipolar Disorder Causes and Risk Factors

While no one particular thing can be pointed to as an exact cause of bipolar disorder, several factors make you more likely to develop a bipolar disorder. These factors include:

  • Family history - research has shown that bipolar disorders likely have a genetic component 
  • Brain chemistry - in many people with bipolar disorders, their brain is unable to produce the correct balance of chemicals or lacks some neural pathways 
  • Biology - your brain may not be a typical shape or size, or may lack other specific characteristics
  • Trauma - brain trauma, including CTE, can cause damage to your neural pathways and brain chemistry

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

If you or a loved one are struggling with a bipolar disorder, you will benefit from a comprehensive care team to help you combat the condition. Your doctor and therapist can help you decide on the best treatment plan for you. Your treatment plan will likely include a combination of medication, therapy, and other coping mechanisms to help you deal with the impact a bipolar disorder can have on you and your family. 

Medication: A combination of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety medications, antipsychotics, and other drugs are often used to treat bipolar disorders. 

Therapy: Talk therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, behavioral therapy - all of these techniques and others can be beneficial as part of your treatment plan. You may also benefit from inpatient or residential treatment. Explore your care options at Sheppard Pratt.

Education: Learning more about your disorder, the things that can trigger it, and behaviors to help you better cope with bipolar disorder will help you improve your quality of life. Find out more about bipolar disorder and other mental health questions through our resource center. 

Support: You and your family will need support and guidance through your journey to better mental health. Find a support group that fits your schedule at Sheppard Pratt.