Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes periods of intense mood swings, shifting from manic to depressive episodes. These swings affect a person’s energy, sleep patterns, eating habits, emotions and behaviors.
It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder as early in life as possible to start treatment and to improve your quality of life. The diagnosis is made based on your symptoms, lifetime history and experiences, and in some cases, your family’s history.
Your doctor or a mental health professional will review your medical and emotional history and may conduct a physical exam and other necessary medical tests. They may also ask you about your life experiences and how they impacted your behavior.
Then, your provider will assess the pattern of your symptoms, including how severe your episodes are and how they interfere with your daily life. This is a detailed process that takes some time.
When your provider believes you may have bipolar disorder, they will usually refer you to a trained mental health care provider, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Your provider will evaluate your symptoms and use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to diagnose you with bipolar disorder.
You will then receive a treatment plan to manage your symptoms, which can include medication, psychotherapy and other treatments such as physical activity. The goal is to reduce the frequency and severity of your mood episodes so you can live a normal, productive life.
Mood stabilizers are often the first drugs that your provider will prescribe to help control your moods. These medications work by lowering the level of certain chemicals in your brain that are responsible for highs and lows in your mood.
Other drugs your provider might recommend are benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), lithium and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. These drugs are usually prescribed for long-term use.
The most effective treatments for bipolar disorder are a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Your health care provider will develop a treatment plan that will be personalized to meet your needs and preferences.
In addition, a treatment that can be particularly helpful for people with severe symptoms is electroconvulsive therapy or ECT. This is a type of brain stimulation that can relieve severe bipolar disorder symptoms, such as psychosis and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
This treatment is often recommended when other types of treatment haven’t helped, or when there are risk factors for suicide or catatonia (a state of unresponsiveness). In the U.S., ECT is available at many hospitals and mental health clinics.
Other medications, such as lithium and antidepressants, can also be used to treat bipolar disorder. These medications can help lower your blood pressure, decrease fatigue and improve memory and concentration.
Talking to a therapist about your symptoms and your life can help you cope with the difficult feelings that come with bipolar disorder. A therapist can offer a supportive environment and provide guidance on how to manage your moods.