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How to Recognize Bipolar Disorder

People with bipolar disorder often switch from feeling overly happy and energetic (or irritable) to feeling very sad. Between these mood extremes, they may have normal moods. Because of the extreme highs and lows, this condition is sometimes referred to as manic depression or bipolar depression.

There are many symptoms of mania and depression in bipolar disorder. Many of these could apply to anyone, depending on whether we're having an up or down day. However, with bipolar disorder more symptoms occur daily for weeks or months, even years. The shifts between depression and mania involve mood, energy, and the ability to function.

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If you have bipolar disorder, no one needs to tell you how challenging this mental illness can be. You are among millions of American adults who may also find that the extreme mood swings of bipolar disorder can be very disruptive at work. Take heart. There are many steps you can take to find meaningful work and develop successful relationships on -- and off -- the job.

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"Bipolar disorder often gets confused with ADHD in children," says Michael Aronson, MD, a clinical psychiatrist and consultant for WebMD. "There are very similar symptoms, the distractibility, the periods of depression."

Adolescent bipolar disorder is the most difficult diagnosis to make, Aronson tells WebMD. "It can be difficult to distinguish whether it's normal mood swings, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. Also, in adolescence, depression manifests itself differently than in adults. There's anger, irritability, rebellious behavior, drug use. Drug abuse is in the spectrum of symptoms of bipolar disorder."

In adults, other problems often accompany bipolar disorder. Women with bipolar disorder are more prone to switching moods more quickly -- called "rapid cycling." They're also more likely to have mania and depressive symptoms in the same episode -- called a "mixed episode." Also, about 60% of all people with bipolar disorder have drug or alcohol dependence, seasonal depression, or certain anxiety disorders, like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Signs of mania: increased activity; less need for sleep; overly euphoric mood; racing thoughts; forceful, rapid speech.

Signs of depression: sad or anxious mood; excessive feelings of guilt or worthlessness; loss of interest in pleasurable activities (like sex); difficulty concentrating.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on June 21, 2012

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