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What Is Bipolar Disorder?


WRITTEN BY: Mental Health
Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition that causes alternating periods of high and low moods, often ranging from depression to euphoria or irritability, and shifts in energy. This lifelong condition affects more than 3 million Americans.

Depression and Mania: Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

There are several different types of Bipolar Disorder. The condition is primarily associated with two mood states: depression and mania.

Symptoms associated with depression

During phases of depression, it’s common to experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Extreme sadness
  • Loss of appetite or increased appetite
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide

Symptoms associated with mania

During mania phases, it’s common to have at least several of these experiences:

  • Feeling “too” happy
  • Being very irritable
  • Talking very fast
  • Experiencing racing thoughts
  • Being easily distracted
  • Sleeping very little and yet not feeling tired
  • Having lots of energy
  • Starting lots of new projects or getting involved in many more activities than usual
  • Having an unrealistically positive view of one’s abilities
  • Acting impulsively
  • Engaging in high-risk behaviors, like spending a lot of money or being sexually promiscuous
  • Having unrealistic thoughts, such as hearing voices that do not exist or feeling frightened for no reason

Manic Depression or Bipolar Disorder? Which Term Is Correct?

You may have heard the term “manic depression,” and wondered if it is the same as Bipolar Disorder.

Manic depression was the term originally used to describe Bipolar Disorder. It was coined because of the condition’s two common mood states: mania and depression.

Today, however, the medical community has learned much about the condition. This illness affects more than just mood; it is a medical disorder that also has an impact on cognition, sleep, and physical well-being. Bipolar Disorder is the medical diagnosis given to individuals experiencing this complex combination of symptoms.

Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

Bipolar Disorder can be challenging to diagnose. Your doctor will collect a medical history and ask questions about the symptoms you are experiencing, including when the problems began and how long you have had them. Your doctor may request urine or blood tests to rule out other conditions.

There are also a number of other factors your doctor will consider, including:

  • Do you have a close relative with Bipolar Disorder? Because Bipolar Disorder runs in families, having a relative with the illness may increase your risk of having the disorder.
  • Have you had a recent major life trauma? If you are biologically vulnerable to Bipolar Disorder, life events that disrupt your daily routines can trigger mood episodes.
  • Do you abuse drugs or alcohol? Many of the symptoms of intoxication can be confused with the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. Sometimes drug use can precipitate mood episodes in individuals who are biologically vulnerable to Bipolar Disorder.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Once diagnosed, Bipolar Disorder is a treatable illness. The most common treatments are medication and psychotherapy. In some cases, day treatment programs or hospitalization might be considered.

If you or a friend or family member have questions about Bipolar Disorder diagnosis or treatment, please check with your doctor. Learn more about Behavioral and Mental Health Services at UPMC.

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Mental Health

Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC and its academic partner, the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, constitute one of the leading centers for research and treatment of behavioral health disorders. For more than 60 years, the integration of research, academia, and clinical services has infused best-practice research into clinical settings for the individuals who need it most. Read More