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Bipolar Disorder

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

There is no single cause. Genes, brain changes, and stress can all play a role.

Researchers are studying how these factors affect bipolar disorder.

How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

If you or someone you know has symptoms of bipolar disorder, talk to your family doctor or a psychiatrist. They will ask questions about mental illnesses that you, or the person you're concerned about, have had, and any mental illnesses that run in the family. You'll also get a checkup.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder is all about the person's symptoms. How severe are they? How long have they lasted? How often do they happen?

The most telling symptoms are those that involve highs or lows in mood, along with changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior.

Talking to close friends and family of the person can often help the doctor distinguish bipolar disorder from major depression or other psychiatric disorders that can involve changes in mood, thinking, and behavior.


What Are the Treatments for Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can be treated. It's a long-term condition that needs ongoing care.

Medication is the main treatment. Psychotherapy, or "talk therapy," is often recommended, too.

People who have four or more episodes of mood changes in a year, or who also have drug or alcohol problems, can have forms of the illness that are much harder to treat.

What Can I Expect After Bipolar Disorder Treatment?

For most people, a good treatment program can stabilize moods and provide symptom relief. 

Ongoing treatment is more effective than dealing with problems as they come up. People who also have a substance abuse problem may need more specialized treatment.

Bipolar Disorder and Suicide

Some people who have bipolar disorder may become suicidal.

Learn the warning signs and seek immediate medical help for them:

  • Depression (changes in eating, sleeping, activities)
  • Isolating yourself
  • Talking about suicide, hopelessness, or helplessness
  • Acting recklessly
  • Taking more risks
  • Having more accidents
  • Abusing alcohol or other drugs
  • Focusing on morbid and negative themes
  • Talking about death and dying
  • Crying more, or becoming less emotionally expressive
  • Giving away possessions

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on September 24, 2013

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