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This topic discusses bipolar disorder in adults. If
you are concerned that your child or teen may have bipolar disorder, see the
topic Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is an
illness that causes extreme mood changes from manic episodes of very high
energy to the extreme lows of
depression. It is also called manic-depressive
This illness can cause behavior so extreme that you
cannot function at work, in family or social situations, or in relationships
with others. Some people with bipolar disorder become suicidal.
million Americans—about 1% of the population, or 1 out of 100 people—have
bipolar disorder, and rates are similar in other countries.1
It's important to know that you're not alone. Talking with others who suffer from bipolar disorder may help you learn that there
is hope for a better life. And treatment can help you get back in
What causes bipolar disorder?
The cause of bipolar
disorder isn't completely understood. It tends to run in families. It may
also be affected by your living environment or family situation. One possible
cause is an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms depend on your
mood swings, or "highs" and "lows." During a manic high, you may feel:
- Very happy, energetic, or on edge.
- Like you need very little sleep.
- Overly self-confident.
Some people spend a lot of money or get involved in dangerous
activities when they are manic. After a manic episode, you may
return to normal. Or your mood may swing in the opposite direction to feelings
of sadness, depression, and hopelessness. During a depressive episode, or low, you may have:
- Trouble thinking and making decisions.
- Memory problems.
- Less interest in things you have enjoyed in the past.
- Thoughts about killing yourself.
The mood swings of bipolar
disorder can be mild or extreme. They may come on slowly over several days or
weeks or suddenly over a few minutes or hours. These mood swings may last for a
few hours or for several months.
How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?
disorder is hard to diagnose. First, your doctor or therapist will ask detailed questions about what kind of symptoms you
have and how long they last. Your urine and blood may be tested to rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms.
There are two types of bipolar disorder: I and II.
To be diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, you must
- A manic episode lasting at least a week (or less, if you had to be hospitalized).
- During that time, three or more symptoms of mania, such as needing less sleep or feeling as if your thoughts are racing.
For bipolar II disorder, your doctor will look for the same symptoms, but the manic high may be less
severe and shorter.
How is it treated?
Bipolar disorder is treatable. With treatment, which includes medicines and counseling, you can feel better.
You may need to try several medicines to find the combination that works for you.
- Most people with bipolar disorder need to
take a medicine called a mood stabilizer every day.
called antipsychotics can help get a manic phase under control.
- Antidepressants are used carefully for episodes of depression,
because they cause some people to move into a manic phase.
Counseling for you
and your family is also an important treatment. It can help you cope with some
of the work and relationship issues that the illness may cause.
You can do a few things on your own to help deal with bipolar disorder. These include regular activity, getting enough sleep, and learning to recognize early signs of highs and lows.
People often stop taking their medicines during a manic
phase because they feel good. But this is a mistake. You must take your
medicines regularly, even if you are feeling better.
Frequently Asked Questions