Bipolar disorder is a treatable medical illness marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior. These changes in mood can last for hours, days, weeks or even months. It is well known that bipolar disorder carries with it high mortality and morbidity rates. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans every year (NIMH).
Symptoms A person with bipolar disorder may have distinct manic or depressed states. Severe bipolar episodes of mania or depression may also include psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. Usually, these psychotic symptoms mirror a person’s extreme mood. Someone who is manic might believe he has special powers and may display risky behavior. Someone who is depressed might feel hopeless, helpless and be unable to perform normal tasks. People with bipolar disorder who have psychotic symptoms may be wrongly diagnosed as having schizophrenia.
- Occasionally people can experience a mixture of both highs and lows at the same time, or switch during the day, giving a mixed picture.
- Some people may only have one episode of mania once a decade, while others may have daily mood swings – for each individual the pattern is quite distinct.
- People with bipolar disorder can experience normal moods in between their swings but the majority experience some low level symptoms between episodes.
- Women and men develop bipolar I disorder at equal rates while the rate of bipolar II is somewhat higher in females.
- Bipolar disorder can commence in childhood, but onset is commoner in the teens or early 20s. Some people develop their first episode in mid-to-late adulthood. Many people can go for years before it is accurately diagnosed or treated.
- With the right treatment, the vast majority of people with bipolar disorder are able to live normal and productive lives.
- Some people with bipolar disorder can become suicidal. It is very important that talk of suicide be taken seriously and for such people to be treated immediately by a mental health professional or other appropriate person.
To diagnose bipolar disorder, a doctor may perform a physical examination, conduct an interview and order lab tests. While bipolar disorder cannot be identified through a blood test or body scan, these tests can help rule out other illnesses that can resemble the disorder, such as hyperthyroidism. If no other illnesses (or other medicines such as steroids) are causing the symptoms, the doctor may recommend the person see a psychiatrist. To be diagnosed with bipolar illness, a person has to have had at least one episode of mania or hypomania.