People with bipolar disorder go through intense emotional changes that are very
different from their usual mood and behavior. These changes affect their lives
on a day-to-day basis.
Testing for bipolar
disorder isn’t as simple as taking a multiple choice test or sending blood to
the lab. While bipolar disorder does show distinct symptoms, there is no single
test to confirm the condition. Often, a combination of methods are used to make
If your symptoms disrupt your daily routine, see a
doctor. Your doctor will do a physical exam and may perform lab tests. These
may include blood and urine analyses. This helps decide if other conditions or
factors could be causing symptoms. Sometimes certain thyroid issues cause
symptoms that are similar to those of bipolar disorder.
Symptoms may also be a side effect of other
After other possible causes are ruled out, the
doctor will likely refer you to a mental health specialist.
A psychiatrist or
psychologist will ask questions to assess your overall mental health. Testing
for bipolar disorder involves questions about symptoms, how long they’ve
occurred, and how they may disrupt your life. You will also be asked about
certain risk factors for bipolar. This includes questions about family medical
history and any history of drug abuse.
Bipolar disorder is a
mental health condition that is known for its periods of both mania and depression.
The diagnosis for bipolar requires at least one depressive and one manic or
hypomanic episode (depending on the type of bipolar disorder that you have).
There will be questions about your thoughts and feelings during and after these
episodes. Your doctor will want to know if you feel in control during the mania
and how long the episodes last. The doctor might ask your friends and family
about your behavior. Any diagnosis will take into account other aspects of your
medical history and medications you have taken.
To be exact with a
diagnosis, doctors use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
(DSM). The DSM provides a technical and detailed description of bipolar
disorder. Here is a breakdown of some of the terms and symptoms used for this
The DSM defines mania as a
“distinct period during which there is an abnormally and persistently elevated,
expansive, or irritable mood.” The episode must last at least a week. The mood
must have at least three of the following symptoms:
- little need
- increased rate
of speech (talking fast)
- flight of
- an increased
interest in goals or activities
agitation (pacing, hand wringing, etc.)
pursuit of activities with a high risk of danger
The DSM states that a
major depressive episode must have at least four of the following symptoms. They
should be new or suddenly worse. They must last for at least two weeks:
- changes in
appetite or weight, sleep, or psychomotor activity
- feelings of
worthlessness or guilt
thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
- thoughts of
death or suicidal plans or attempts
Bipolar I disorder
Bipolar I disorder
involves one or more manic episodes or mixed (mania and depression) episodes
and at least one major depressive episode. The episodes are not due to a
medical condition or substance use.
Bipolar II disorder
Bipolar II disorder has
one or more severe major depressive episodes with at least one hypomanic
episode. There are no manic or mixed episodes. Hypomania is a lesser form
of mania. It doesn’t disrupt your ability to function as much as bipolar I
disorder. The symptoms must cause a lot of distress or problems at work,
school, or with relationships. It’s common for those with bipolar II disorder
to not remember their manic episodes.
characterized by changing low-level depression along with periods of hypomania.
The symptoms must be present for at least two years before a diagnosis can be
made (one year in children). Adults have symptom-free periods that last no
longer than two months. Kids and teens have symptom-free periods that last only
about a month.
Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder
This category is a severe
form of bipolar disorder. It occurs when a person has at least four episodes of
major depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states within a year. Rapid cycling
affects more women than men. It appears to be more common in those who
have their first bipolar episode at a young age.
Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified (NOS)
This category is
for bipolar symptoms that do not clearly fit into other types. NOS is diagnosed
when multiple bipolar symptoms are present but not enough to meet the label for
any of the other subtypes. This category can also include rapid mood
changes that don’t last long enough to be true manic or depressive episodes.
Bipolar disorder NOS includes multiple hypomanic episodes without a major
is most often misdiagnosed in its early stages, which is frequently during the
teenage years. When it is diagnosed as something else, symptoms of bipolar
disorder can get worse. This usually occurs because the wrong treatment is
provided. Other factors of a misdiagnosis are inconsistency in the timeline of
episodes and behavior.
Most people don’t
seek treatment until they experience a depressive episode.
According to a
study done by the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association (DMDA), around 69 percent of all cases are misdiagnosed.
One-third of those are not being properly diagnosed for 10 years or more.
is often misdiagnosed as unipolar depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, an eating
disorder, or a personality disorder. The condition shares many of the symptoms associated
with other mental disorders. Some things that may help doctors in getting it
right are a strong knowledge of family history, fast recurring episodes of
depression, and taking a mood disorder questionnaire.