If you or someone you know has bipolar symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor. It’s also important to understand what you can do to get better.
Bipolar disorder involves cycles of highs and lows (mania and depression). People with the condition may sometimes experience mixed episodes, which are when they have both mania and depression at the same time. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 4.4% of adults in the United States have bipolar disorder. Most people first develop bipolar symptoms in their teens or twenties, but they can appear at any age. Children who have bipolar symptoms may need to be evaluated by a mental health professional, especially if they are having suicidal thoughts.
Symptoms of mania include feeling extremely happy or elated. They can also include irritability, racing thoughts and increased energy. Some people who have severe manic episodes may also experience psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions. People who have depression usually feel very sad or down. Depression can cause suicidal feelings, and it can lead to reckless behavior, such as taking risks or having unprotected sex.
Sometimes, a person can have a mixture of mania and depression or hypomania and depression. These mood changes are called cyclothymia, and they can last longer than manic or depressive episodes. People with cyclothymia also have periods of normal moods.
A doctor can diagnose bipolar disorder by asking questions about the person’s symptoms, history and family history. The doctor will also do medical tests, such as blood tests, to rule out other conditions that could cause the symptoms, such as hyperthyroidism. A person with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder will usually need to take medications for the rest of his or her life, though some people do well without medication.
Many people with bipolar disorder have other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, substance use problems or eating disorders. It’s important to treat these other conditions as part of a treatment plan for bipolar disorder.
People with bipolar disorder may have trouble maintaining a job or staying in school, and their relationships can become strained. They are also at a higher risk of suicide than people who don’t have the disorder.
Some people have rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, which means that they have four or more episodes of mania and/or depression per year. People with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder may also have a period of normal mood in between each episode.
It’s not clear what causes bipolar disorder, but genetics, brain structure and function, environmental factors and other things probably play a role. Some studies show that people who have a family member with the illness are more likely to have it. Other research shows that stress, trauma and abuse in childhood can be a trigger. It’s also possible that bipolar disorder can be caused by certain medications, including some antidepressants and sedatives. People who have bipolar disorder can still have good lives if they are treated early and well.