Bipolar disorder 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. Because it is a manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. Bipolar disorder often develops in a person’s late teens or early adult years, and most start before age 25.
People with bipolar disorder experience unusually intense emotional states that occur in distinct periods called “mood episodes.” An overly joyful or overexcited state is called a manic episode, and an extremely sad or hopeless state is called a depressive episode. Sometimes, a mood episode includes symptoms of both mania and depression. This is called a mixed state. People with bipolar disorder also may be explosive and irritable during a mood episode.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder include:
- Dramatic mood swings from a moderate to severe depression to periods of hypomania
- Psychotic episodes that might include hallucinations or delusions and
- Behavioral problems that might include alcohol or substance abuse, relationship problems, or poor performance at work or in school. At first, it’s not easy to recognize these problems as signs of a major mental illness.
Bipolar disorder cannot currently be identified through a blood test or a brain scan, but there are tests available that can help rule out other contributing factors, such as a stroke or brain tumor. If the problems are not caused by other illnesses, the doctor may conduct a mental health evaluation. The doctor may also provide a referral to a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, who is experienced in diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder.