Bipolar Disorder: Types, Symptoms & Treatment Options

You hear it more and more often: bipolar disorder. Maybe in your circle of acquaintances, in the news, or your favorite medical series. But what exactly is bipolar disorder? And is it as common as you think? The answer is: yes. Almost 6 million Americans are suffering, making this a common (mental) health condition. Everyone can develop bipolar disorder and not treating it can lead to serious complications for yourself and also your surroundings. Therefore, it is important to educate yourself. Learn about the symptoms and what follow-up steps to take next.

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What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Now we know that everyone can get bipolar disorder it’s good to know what it means and does to your mental health. Bipolar disorder – also known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression – is a chronic disorder that causes your moods, energy, thinking patterns, and behavior to shift immensely. In other words, you can shift from severe depressive feelings within a certain period to complete euphoria. These shifts can happen within hours, days, or weeks. These mood changes are called (hypo)manic and depressive episodes. This does not mean that a person with bipolar disorder is only in a depressive or manic state. There are also periods of the normal state and these are called euthymia.

Unfortunately, there is no specific cause of why someone is suffering from bipolar disorder. Medical research does know that genetics and the way it develops can play a role in developing this mental health issue. Other big risk factors are going through trauma or high stress, and substance abuse.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

When someone is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he or she will be diagnosed with a specific type. These types include:

  • Bipolar I disorder
  • Bipolar II disorder
  • Cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia)
  • Other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders

People diagnosed with the first type experience one or more manic and depressive episodes. Do know a depressive episode isn’t necessary to get this diagnosis? When someone is experiencing a manic episode for 7 days or more, or if the episode is so severe that he or she should be hospitalized, bipolar I disorder can be diagnosed. Bipolar II disorder means that someone is suffering from depressive and hypomanic episodes and never experience a full manic episode. Hypomanic episodes are less severe than manic episodes. Depressive episodes are chronic and worse in bipolar II, which makes this the more debilitating type. People with cyclothymia experience hypomania and mild depression episode over two years and have short periods of euthymia. The last type is a category for people who don’t fit the criteria over the 3 other categories but experience the same symptoms.

We talked about (mood) episodes, but what are these? People suffering from bipolar disorder go through periods when their whole personality changes. They experience extreme emotions, changes when they sleep and are awake, and also start to behave differently. All this happens without them realizing that they have changed and this has harmful side effects for themselves and their surroundings.

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Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

As bipolar disorder patients shift from manic episodes to depressive episodes – and euthymia, they experience different symptoms in each episode. They have no symptoms in their “normal state” (euthymia) and are completely themselves. You recognize a (hypo)manic episode when you experience three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Unusual upbeat/jump/wired
  • Increased energy
  • Increased agitation
  • Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence
  • No need for sleep
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Easily distracted
  • Bad decision-making and poor judgement
  • Sudden and severe changes in mood
  • Rapid speech
  • Psychosis
  • Increased impulsivity

Depressive Episode Symptoms

People who experience hypomanic episodes suffer from the same symptoms but are a lot milder. For example, you feel very good and got a lot done. This doesn’t sound dramatic, but friends and family may notice the mood swings and changes in activity. Often a severe depressive episode will follow. You recognize a depressive episode when you experience (one or more of) the following symptoms:

  • Constantly feeling tired, sad, and or/empty.
  • Sleeping way too much or way too little
  • Weight fluctuations; meaning no appetite & weight loss or increased appetite & weight gain
  • Loss of pleasure & interest in thing once loved
  • No desire for sex
  • Restlessness & irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms that don’t go away even with treatment
  • Difficulty focussing, remembering, and making decisions
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Constantly feeling guilty, hopeless, and/or worthless
  • Thinking of suicide or death

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Are There Any Treatment Options?

Even though an (untreated) patient with bipolar disorder has extreme mood swings, they often do not realize how damaging this can be to themselves and also those around them. Getting the right diagnosis and treatment is crucial to be more stable. First, you or a loved one should recognize the symptoms of a (hypo)manic episode – and possibly a depressive episode. When this happened it’s important to find help.

The next step is to visit your professional healthcare provider and tell him or her about your symptoms and suspicions. Your healthcare provider will test you or direct you to the appropriate specialist – like a mental health specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Possible tests are physical exams, thorough medical history exams, blood tests, and mental health evaluations. To get the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, someone needs to experience at least one (hypo)manic episode. When all this is done your healthcare provider will make the right diagnosis. When this is indeed bipolar disease he or she will set up a treatment plan. Possible treatment options include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication, like antidepressants & mood stabilizers
  • Self-management strategies
  • Lifestyle changes, like yoga, exercise, and meditation
  • IPSRT; Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy
  • Family-focused therapy
  • CBT; Cognitive behavioral therapy

Get the Right Diagnosis

Getting the right diagnosis is vital because that’s the only way to get proper help and guidance. Unfortunately, there is no cure for bipolar disorder, but with the right treatment, symptoms and episodes are manageable. The above-mentioned treatment options are the most common. It’s important to find a treatment that suits you and manages your symptoms. Make sure you are adequately informed, so you know what to expect. We want to help you with your search to make life a little easier. Start here:

If you are thinking about suicide, it is important to seek help immediately. This can involve reaching out to a friend or family member, contacting a crisis hotline, or going to the emergency room. You can also talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional about your feelings and get connected with support and resources to help manage your mental health. Remember, there is always help available, and you are not alone in your struggles. It takes courage to reach out for help, but doing so can make a significant difference in your wellbeing and the quality of your life.