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What Is Bipolar Disorder?

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects nearly 6 million adults in the United States. Bipolar disorder causes people to experience extreme and unpredictable shifts in mood, energy, and productivity – you can go from feeling excited and energized today to becoming sad and depressed the next.

These shifts in mood are very disruptive and can cause severe impairment, especially if left untreated. Untreated bipolar disorder has also been linked to an increased risk of suicide, underlining the importance of seeking professional help.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary depending on the type and severity of the episode. During a manic or hypomanic episode, a person may experience:

  • Elevated or irritable mood
  • Increased energy and activity levels
  • Racing thoughts or speech
  • Reduced need for sleep
  • Grandiosity or inflated self-esteem
  • Impulsive or risky behavior, such as spending sprees, drug abuse, or driving while intoxicated

During a depressive episode, a person may experience:

  • Low mood or sadness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar I Disorder

This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by manic episodes that last at least seven days or are so severe that hospitalization is required.

Although a depressive episode is not needed for diagnosis, most people with Bipolar I disorder will also experience depressive episodes that go on for at least two weeks at a time.

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder is characterized by episodes of hypomania and depression. Hypomania is a milder form of mania that does not require hospitalization but can still cause severe impairment.

To be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, one must have experienced a hypomanic episode lasting at least four days, and a depressive episode lasting at least two weeks.

Cyclothymic Disorder

This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by recurring episodes of hypomania and mild depression that come and go for up to two years – often separated by short symptom-free periods. These episodes are usually not long or severe enough to qualify as Bipolar I or II disorders but can still cause significant disruption in your life.

Other Specified And Unspecified Bipolar And Related Disorders

This diagnosis is used to describe situations where an individual experiences symptoms of mood dysregulation that are similar to bipolar disorder in one way or another but do not meet the diagnostic criteria for any of the above forms of bipolar disorder. Bipolar subtypes that fall under this category include rapid cycling bipolar disorder, mixed states, and bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (BD-NOS).

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not well understood, but experts have established genetic, environmental, and biological risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing this condition.

Genetics: Research suggests that bipolar disorder is at least partially genetic, as it can run in families. This means that a person may be more likely to develop bipolar disorder if they have a first-degree relative (e.g., parent or sibling) with the condition.

Environmental factors: Stressful life events, trauma, substance abuse, personality traits, and other environmental factors have also been linked to an increased risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Biology: Additionally, researchers have identified certain biological abnormalities in people with the disorder – such as imbalances in neurotransmitters or abnormalities in brain structure and function

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness that is often challenging to manage, but with the help of a professional – it is possible to keep your symptoms under control. The most common treatment options for bipolar disorder include:


Talk therapy can be a valuable tool in treating bipolar disorder. Various forms of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT), can help individuals with bipolar disorder correct negative thought patterns that can trigger or worsen episodes of mania and depression, learn coping skills, and improve personal relationships.


Mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants are often prescribed to help manage or prevent extreme mood shifts in bipolar disorder.

Lifestyle Modifications

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is vital in managing bipolar disorder. This includes getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, practicing proper stress management, establishing a strong social support system, and avoiding substance abuse.

The Takeaway

Bipolar disorder is a debilitating mental illness that can cause significant disruption in your life – but with proper treatment and support, it is possible to manage your symptoms and lead a happy and productive life despite your diagnosis. If you suspect you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. With treatment, you can find relief and start enjoying life once again.

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