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Warning Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

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Does Your Teenager Have Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder commonly begins to show itself in the late teens. Bipolar disorder in the teenage years is serious; it's often more severe than in adults. Adolescents with bipolar disorder are at high risk for suicide.

Unfortunately, bipolar disorder in teens frequently goes undiagnosed and untreated. Partly, this is because while symptoms may begin in adolescence, they often don't meet the full diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder in teens may be unusual -- not a straightforward "manic depression." ADHD, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse are often also present, confusing the picture.

Some symptoms that suggest a teenager might have bipolar disorder are:

  • Uncharacteristic periods of anger and aggression
  • Grandiosity and overconfidence
  • Easy tearfulness, frequent sadness
  • Needing little sleep to feel rested
  • Uncharacteristic impulsive behavior
  • Moodiness
  • Confusion and inattention

Other potential symptoms that may indicate the presence of a psychiatric disorder requiring evaluation may include feeling trapped, overeating, excessive worry, and anxiety.  Other possible diagnoses in addition to bipolar disorder that should be considered in the setting of symptoms such as these include unipolar (major) depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, adjustment disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder.

It's important to remember that these symptoms can occur in many healthy teens and adults. The time for concern is when they form a pattern over time, interfering with daily life. Children with symptoms that suggest bipolar disorder should be seen and evaluated by a psychiatrist or psychologist.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on May 11, 2014
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