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Bipolar Disorder

Updated: Jan 4


Bipolar disorder, formerly called "manic depression," is a mental illness that causes unusual changes in mood, including highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).

There are three types of bipolar disorder. All three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels.


  • Bipolar I Disorder: Defined by the presence of at least one manic episode that may be preceded or followed by a hypomanic episode or a major depressive episode. In some cases, mania can cause a disconnection from reality (psychosis).

  • Bipolar II disorder: There is at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. Hypomanic Episodes are less severe than Manic Episodes in Bipolar I Disorder.

  • Cyclothymic disorder:(also called cyclothymia) is defined by recurrent hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are not severe enough or do not last long enough to qualify as hypomanic or depressive episodes.


People with bipolar disorder experience periods of unusually intense emotions and changes in sleep patterns and activity levels. These distinct periods are called mood episodes.

Mood episodes are very different from the person's usual moods and behaviors. During an episode, the symptoms last every day for most of the day. Episodes can also last for longer periods of time, such as several days or weeks.

These may include episodes of mania or hypomania and episodes of depression.


Symptoms of a Manic Episode

  • Feeling very high, elated, or extremely irritable or sensitive

  • Feeling nervous or more active than usual

  • Having a decreased need for sleep

  • Talking fast about lots of different things

  • Racing thoughts

  • Feeling able to do many things at once without getting tired

  • Having an excessive appetite for food, drink, sex, or other pleasurable activities

  • Feeling unusually important, talented, or powerful

Symptoms of a depressive episode

  • Feeling very depressed, sad, or anxious

  • Feeling sluggish or restless

  • Having trouble falling asleep, waking up too early, or sleeping too much

  • Speaking very slowly, feeling unable to find something to say

  • Having trouble concentrating or making decisions

  • Feeling unable to do even simple things

  • Lack of interest in almost all activities

  • Feeling hopeless or useless, or thinking about death or suicide

A person can have bipolar disorder even if their symptoms are less extreme. For example, some people with bipolar II disorder experience hypomania, a less severe form of mania.


The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but it can involve a number of factors, including:

  • Brain structure and function: People with bipolar disorder have physical changes in the brain. The significance of these changes is still uncertain, but over time it may help identify causes.

  • Genetics: Bipolar disorder is more common in people who have a first-degree relative (such as siblings or parents) with the disorder. Researchers are looking for genes that may be involved in the origin of bipolar disorder.


Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Episodes of mania and depression often come back over time. Long-term, ongoing treatment can help people manage these symptoms.


The best person to guide treatment is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illness (psychiatrist) who is trained in treating bipolar disorder and related disorders. Certain medications can help control the symptoms of bipolar disorder.


Psychotherapy is an essential part of treatment for bipolar disorder and can be done individually, with the family, or in a group setting. There are several types of therapies that can help.

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