Symptoms

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Symptoms

The signs of bipolar disorder are periods of extreme emotional highs and lows.

There may be periods of normal mood and functioning in between, and people may have more depressive episodes than mania, or vice versa. Periods of mania and depression do not inevitably follow each other. The intensity of moods may vary between the highs and lows and from one time to the next. The cycles may last weeks or months. This unpredictability can make bipolar disorder very difficult to diagnose. What does define bipolar disorder is that these mood extremes interfere with your ability to function in daily life.

Signs of mania

During a manic episode, you may have increased energy and even euphoria. Initially it may feel great. However, things can quickly spin out of control. You may feel like can you do or take on anything and start recklessly acting on these feelings without considering the risks. You may also start to feel irritable, aggressive, and angry and start lashing out at others. Eventually, the gap between your emotional high and reality leads to poor decisions—things you normally wouldn’t do, like spending sprees, gambling, substance abuse, risky sexual activity, driving dangerously, quitting a job, and alienating others.

Signs of a manic episode may include:

  • Experiencing an extreme emotional high
  • Bursts of activity and energy
  • An inflated sense of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Feeling unusually optimistic
  • Feeling extremely irritable, agitated, or aggressive
  • Grandiose beliefs about your abilities or importance
  • Feeling rested on only a few hours of sleep
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Talking rapidly and nearly constantly
  • Racing thoughts and ideas
  • Making ambitious, often unrealistic plans
  • Finding it very hard to concentrate and focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Increased sex drive
  • Reckless, impulsive behavior and risk-taking
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Delusions, hallucinations, and hearing voices

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health; Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance; Helpguide.org

Signs of depression

Signs of a depressive episode in bipolar disorder are very similar to the signs of major depression. In fact, bipolar disorder is often diagnosed when people seek help for depression. However, there are some differences. People with bipolar depression are more likely to feel restless, irritable, and have unpredictable mood swings. It is important to properly diagnose bipolar disorder in order to get the correct treatment. If bipolar disorder is incorrectly diagnosed as major depression, the depression can cycle into manic episodes.

Signs of depression include:

  • Feeling worried, empty, and sad for long periods of time
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Feeling tired, sluggish, and slow
  • Having trouble concentrating and remembering
  • Feeling restless and irritable
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Weight gain or losing appetite
  • Slow speech and poor muscle coordination
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Unexplained physical aches and pains
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health; Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance; Helpguide.org

How bipolar disorder is diagnosed

Many people suffer for years before getting a diagnosis and treatment plan. It can be difficult to recognize bipolar disorder when it begins. The symptoms may seem like a different problem or separate problems. People and their loved ones may also be slow to get help because of the stigma that is still attached to mental illness. This is unfortunate, because early intervention helps avoid much of the disruption to people’s lives that can happen, especially during manic phases. If left untreated, bipolar disorder usually gets worse over time.

In some cases, a person who has not previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may be in crisis, such as having thoughts of suicide or a severe manic episode. If you or someone you love is hearing voices, having hallucinations, behaving dangerously, or thinking of suicide or self-injury, please call for help immediately. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

For someone who is not currently in crisis, the first step in getting help is a physical examination. A doctor can rule out other physical problems that may have similar symptoms, such a stroke, heart disease, thyroid disorder, or other conditions.

The next step is a mental health evaluation. A healthcare provider will take a complete history, asking you about your family’s health history, your symptoms, and your mood patterns. The doctor will listen as you describe your thoughts, emotions, and concerns about your health. It is helpful if the doctor can also talk with close family members; he will only do this with your permission.

A healthcare provider will also pay attention to any other conditions that you may have.

Some of the conditions that commonly co-occur with bipolar disorder:

  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Anxiety disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder and social phobia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Self-injury, such as cutting
  • Thoughts of suicide

Your doctor will be sure to get a complete picture of your health in order help stabilize your moods and work with you on the best possible long-term treatment plan for you.

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health; Mayo Clinic; WebMD

How bipolar disorder is diagnosed

Many people suffer for years before getting a diagnosis and treatment plan. It can be difficult to recognize bipolar disorder when it begins. The symptoms may seem like a different problem or separate problems. People and their loved ones may also be slow to get help because of the stigma that is still attached to mental illness. This is unfortunate, because early intervention helps avoid much of the disruption to people’s lives that can happen, especially during manic phases. If left untreated, bipolar disorder usually gets worse over time.

In some cases, a person who has not previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may be in crisis, such as having thoughts of suicide or a severe manic episode. If you or someone you love is hearing voices, having hallucinations, behaving dangerously, or thinking of suicide or self-injury, please call for help immediately. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

For someone who is not currently in crisis, the first step in getting help is a physical examination. A doctor can rule out other physical problems that may have similar symptoms, such a stroke, heart disease, thyroid disorder, or other conditions.

The next step is a mental health evaluation. A healthcare provider will take a complete history, asking you about your family’s health history, your symptoms, and your mood patterns. The doctor will listen as you describe your thoughts, emotions, and concerns about your health. It is helpful if the doctor can also talk with close family members; he will only do this with your permission.

A healthcare provider will also pay attention to any other conditions that you may have.

Some of the conditions that commonly co-occur with bipolar disorder:

  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Anxiety disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder and social phobia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Self-injury, such as cutting
  • Thoughts of suicide

Your doctor will be sure to get a complete picture of your health in order help stabilize your moods and work with you on the best possible long-term treatment plan for you.

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health; Mayo Clinic; WebMD

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