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This topic discusses bipolar disorder in adults. If
you are concerned that your child or teen may have bipolar disorder, see the
topic Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is an
illness that causes extreme mood changes from manic episodes of very high
energy to the extreme lows of
depression. It is also called manic-depressive
This illness can cause behavior so extreme that you
cannot function at work, in family or social situations, or in relationships
with others. Some people with bipolar disorder become suicidal.
Having this disorder can make you feel helpless and hopeless. But you are
not alone. Talking with others who suffer from it may help you learn that there
is hope for a better life. And treatment can help you get back in
Family members often feel helpless when a loved one is
depressed or manic. If your loved one has bipolar disorder, you may want to get
counseling for yourself. Therapy can also help a child who has a bipolar
The cause of bipolar
disorder is not completely understood. We know that it runs in families. It may
also be affected by your living environment or family situation. One possible
cause is an imbalance of chemicals in the brain.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms depend on your
mood swings. In a manic episode, you may feel very happy, energetic, or on
edge. You may feel like you need very little sleep. You may feel overly
self-confident. Some people spend a lot of money or get involved in dangerous
activities when they are manic.
After a manic episode, you may
return to normal, or your mood may swing in the opposite direction to feelings
of sadness, depression, and hopelessness. When you are depressed, you may have
trouble thinking and making decisions. You may have memory problems. You may
lose interest in things you have enjoyed in the past. You may also have
thoughts about killing yourself.
The mood swings of bipolar
disorder can be mild or extreme. They may come on slowly over several days or
weeks or suddenly over a few minutes or hours. The mood swings may last for a
few hours or for several months.
How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?
disorder is hard to diagnose. There are no lab tests for it. Instead, your
doctor or therapist will ask detailed questions about what kind of symptoms you
have and how long they last. To be diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, you must
have had a manic episode lasting at least a week (less if you had to be
hospitalized). During this time, you must have had three or more symptoms of
mania, such as needing less sleep, being more talkative, behaving wildly or
irresponsibly in activities that could have serious outcomes, or feeling as if
your thoughts are racing. In bipolar II disorder, the manic episode may be less
severe and shorter.