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What tests will the doctor use to make a bipolar diagnosis?

Your doctor may have you fill out a mood questionnaire or checklist to help guide the clinical interview when he or she assesses mood symptoms. In addition, your doctor may order blood and urine tests to rule out other causes of your symptoms. In a toxicology screening, blood, urine, or hair are examined for the presence of drugs. Blood tests also include a check of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level, since depression is sometimes linked to thyroid function.

Can brain scans or imaging tests help with the bipolar diagnosis?

While doctors don’t rely on brain scans or imaging tests for making a bipolar diagnosis, some high tech neuroimaging tests may help doctors make specific neurologic diagnoses that can account for psychiatric symptoms. An MRI or CT scan is therefore sometimes ordered in patients who have had a sudden change in thinking, mood, or behavior to assure that a neurological disease is not the underlying cause.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, studies are underway to examine whether electroencephalograms (EEGs) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of the brain can reveal differences between bipolar disorder and related behavioral syndromes. But bipolar disorder remains a clinical diagnosis, and no imaging study or other lab test has yet been established to confirm its diagnosis or guide its treatment.

What can I do if I think a loved one has bipolar disorder?

If you suspect that a loved one has bipolar disorder, talk with the person about your concerns. Ask if you can make a doctor’s appointment for the person and offer to accompany the person to the visit. Here are some tips:

  1. Alert the doctor that this is a new problem and the doctor will need to allow sufficient time for the exam.
  2. Have your concerns written down on a sheet of paper to make sure you cover all areas.
  3. Be specific as to the problems of bipolar depression, hypomania, or mania.
  4. Give specific details of mood symptoms and behaviors to the doctor.
  5. Describe any severe mood changes, especially anger, depression, and aggressiveness.
  6. Describe personality changes, especially instances of elation, paranoia, illusions, and hallucinations.
  7. Be sure to discuss any use of alcohol or other drugs (like marijuana, cocaine or amphetamines) that the person may be using since they can often cause changes in mood, which may be mistaken for the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 08, 2014
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