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Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives (NIMH).

Bipolar disorder affects both men and women and young and old. Girls and women tend to have fewer symptoms, but boys and men often have manic symptoms.

Common symptoms of depression

  • Changes in eating habits
  • Eating too little or too much
  • Chronic pain
  • Indigestion
  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Lack of energy
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Silence and / or drowsiness
  • Self-repeated thoughts of death such as suicide, attempted suicide

More Information About Bipolar Disorder

When to see a doctor

Individuals who have bipolar disorder may experience a range of emotions, from elevated or abnormally intense feelings of happiness and grandiosity to severely depressed mood. These fluctuations in mood can interfere with an individual’s daily life, work, relationships, school, etc.

Bipolar disorder is much more common than many people realize; it affects approximately 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year (4.4% for bipolar disorder I or II).

Bipolar disorder is generally treated with mood stabilizers—typically lithium, Depakote/Depakene, Lamictal or Tegretol—antidepressants, or a combination of these medications. Psychotherapy may also be helpful in managing the disease.

Although medication and psychotherapy remain the most effective treatments for bipolar disorder, some individuals may still experience serious problems as a result of their symptoms. In addition to interfering with relationships and work, this illness can place individuals at greater risk of harming themselves physically and can even contribute to thoughts of suicide.

Persons who have bipolar disorder are also at increased risk for other medical problems such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity . In addition, they may be unable to manage the stress associated with critical or demanding jobs. The combination of these factors may make a full return to health and normal functioning more difficult than for people without a mental illness.

Efforts to promote awareness and understanding of bipolar disorder are crucial in breaking through the stigma that surrounds this disease. That’s why Mayo Clinic has launched its Bipolar Disorder: From Diagnosis to Recovery program, which includes information on treatment options, coping strategies, medication side effects, relationship challenges, depression symptoms and more.

Medications can help manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but they do not cure this complex illness. Finding and sticking with a treatment plan that works is often especially difficult for teenagers or young adults who have bipolar disorder because the nature and severity of their symptoms may change as their brains mature (during adolescence) .

Treatment should be tailored to their specific symptoms and situation.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment to prevent or limit the frequency, severity and duration of episodes. The goal of bipolar disorder treatment is to reduce the number and intensity of episodes and lessen their impact on everyday life .

If you have concerns about your mood or the mood of a loved one, don’t hesitate to seek help promptly. If you’re not sure whether you should see your doctor, check out our guidelines below.

If you have bipolar I disorder , or if you experience changes in energy, activity levels and sleep patterns accompanied by extreme shifts in mood (mania and depression), strong urges to spend money, participate in risky activities or take part in excessive sexual activity.

If you are caring for a child with symptoms of bipolar disorder and would like a consultation with a pediatric psychiatrist.

If you’d like more information on how the latest research can help your family members or friends who have bipolar disorder .

If you are pregnant and have bipolar disorder , or are considering becoming pregnant.

If you have diabetes, epilepsy, asthma, heart disease and/or other medical conditions that could be dangerous if your mood changed suddenly . If you take medications for any of these problems, talk to your doctor about how they might interact with treatment for bipolar disorder.

If someone in your family has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder , you might be at risk of developing the illness yourself.

If you have a history of substance abuse, which can make bipolar disorder more difficult to treat . Your doctor will discuss risks and benefits of drug treatment for your condition.

If someone close to you has recently died and you are concerned that the death was due to suicide.

If you need more information about bipolar disorder to help your family and friends better understand the disease .

If you’d like to participate in research aimed at finding better treatments for this illness.


Bipolar disorder is caused from a combination of both genetic and environmental factors.

Bipolar disorder is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, neurochemical, and developmental factors. Researchers have found that the disorder runs in families, which means it has a genetic component to it as well. Furthermore, neurotransmitters (the chemicals responsible for communication between neurons) are altered in those with bipolar disorder. Scientists have proposed that having an imbalance in the neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, is the cause of bipolar disorder.

It also appears that this disorder has a connection to changes during embryonic development, which help explain why it can happen to someone even if their parents don’t have it. Currently there are no biomarkers or genetic tests for bipolar disorder, which means it is diagnosed based on a set of criteria such as symptoms.

Researchers have been looking at the possible causes of bipolar disorder. The “discovery” that genes play a role in causing this illness has sparked research into how genetics cause an imbalance between neurotransmitters in the brain and how that imbalance affects the brain and the person suffering from bipolar disorder. Scientists are also studying how environmental factors such as drug abuse, stress, or major life events can trigger an episode in those with a genetic vulnerability towards bipolar disorder.

Genetic research has shown that the chances of having bipolar disorder increase if one or more immediate family members have it. However, if one identical twin has bipolar disorder, there is only a 50% chance that the other twin will have it. So far, there are 3 major genes found to be related to bipolar disorder: D8 and 12 on chromosome 8, DBH gene on chromosome 11, and SERT gene (which makes a protein that takes serotonin from the space between the nerve cells and blood) on chromosome 17. The gene responsible for making the protein that takes in serotonin has also been found to have certain variations that are more common in those with bipolar disorder, suggesting a relationship between serotonin and bipolar disorder.

Studies show that people with close relatives who have had depression or manic symptoms are more likely to develop bipolar disorder. This suggests that the illness is, at least in part, genetically influenced. In addition to bipolar disorder’s genetic influence on neurotransmitters, research has shown that a disruption in embryonic development may also play a role in the cause of this illness.

There are many environmental factors associated with bipolar disorder as well. Environmental factors that scientists have studied in relation to the cause of bipolar disorder include:

Stressful life events

Bipolar disorder is often triggered by a stressful or traumatic event. Although it may seem like having a mental illness would lower your chance of experiencing stress, those with bipolar disorder have been found to be more sensitive to stress than those without this illness.

Diagnosis and Tests

How does bipolar disorder get diagnosed?

Bipolar disorder can sometimes be hard to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. The symptoms of bipolar disorder often happen in cycles called “mood episodes.” There are four types of mood episodes: depressive, manic, hypomanic, and mixed. Each type has specific symptoms. A doctor will ask some questions about the person’s symptoms and health history to help diagnose him or her.

What information is collected?

The doctor will collect information from medical records, family members, friends, and the person with bipolar disorder. The doctor will also do a physical exam to make sure it isn’t caused by other problems. Sometimes blood tests or other tests are done to know the cause of bipolar disorder.

What questions might the doctor ask?

The doctor will probably ask about symptoms first. He or she may ask if anyone else in the family has had bipolar disorder or any other mental disorders. The person will be asked if they have ever used drugs, alcohol, or medicine because that may cause some of the symptoms. The doctor will ask about the person’s routine, such as when they sleep and eat. Questions may include:

– How long does it take you to fall asleep?

– Have you been sleeping more or less than usual?

– Do you feel tired the day after sleeping a lot?

– Are you eating more or less than usual?

– How often do you have trouble with your appetite?

– Have you gained weight without trying, lost weight without trying, or stayed about the same weight?

– How would you rate your energy level throughout the day?

– Have you been exercising as much as usual?

– Do you have a lot of energy or feel very tired?

– Have your moods changed?

– Is it hard for you to wake up in the morning?

– Have you been sleeping less than usual?

– How would you rate your ability to focus on things like work, school, or conversations?

– How is your speech or thought process?

– Could you tell me about things that make you feel frustrated, angry, or upset? Do these happen more often than usual?

– Has anyone close to you noticed that these problems are happening more often than usual?

– Have your symptoms affected your relationships with people?

– Have you been more or less interested in sex than usual?


How does bipolar disorder get treated?

Treatment typically involves a combination, or at least one, of cognitive-behavioral therapy, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and medication. Here are more details surrounding each of these treatment methods:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: This is also known as interpersonal therapy and involves a focus on changing one’s distorted view of himself or herself, as well as his or her environment. This therapy also concentrates on bettering an individual’s interpersonal and stress-coping skills.

Medication: The medications used to treat bipolar disorder are typically mood stabilizers, such as lithium and Depakote. Anticonvulsants (such as Tegretol, Neurontin and Lamictal) may be used in the treatment of mania or seizures, while atypical antipsychotic agents may be prescribed for bipolar depression.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): This is a treatment where small electrical currents are passed through the brain, causing seizures to occur. It has proven effective in treating certain types of severe depression and bipolar disorder. ECT usually involves three treatments per week for several weeks; the number of sessions depends on how fast a patient responds.

How effective is bipolar disorder treatment?

Bipolar disorder typically requires a combination of medication and psychotherapy for the best results. As with other mental illnesses, many people are not able to get control of their symptoms through conventional treatments.


“There is no evidence that bipolar disorder can be prevented at this time.”

Support and resources




Bipolar disorder equally affects men and women as well as the young an old. Girls or women tend to display more depressive symptoms whereas boys or man lean towards displaying manic symptoms.

Depressive Mood:

Common depressive moods include a change in eating habits such as too much/too little; feeling anxious irritable empty sad; constant fatigue low energy levels feelings of guilt lack sleep inability to find peace with oneself living life on autopilot not knowing what you’re doing where your going who you are etc.; chronic pain digestive problems headaches restlessness often also experiencing periods of high anxiety panic attacks depression that can cause small things like leaving dishes unwashed or clothing lying around.

Manic Symptoms:

Manic symptoms are characterized by a person’s thoughts and actions that can be either destructive or risky. Manics have high energy levels with little need for sleep, rest, food…etc., poor judgement skills, increased talking speed/volume as well as easily agitated moods where they feel irritable if irritated too much due to their sense of self-esteem being inflated. They also experience short attention spans which may cause them to become distracted from what is happening around them in the moment when not focused on one thing at a time while having an aggressive attitude towards others; this often leads people who suffer through manic episodes into trouble such as legal issues given how impulsive some acts might seem without considering consequences before acting out on those impulses.