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Everything You Need to Know About Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder, as the name suggests, causes two-poles, one of extreme low (depression) and the other of extreme highs (mania, hypomania, or excitement). Both poles are clinically diagnosed, and patients may or may not have normal moods between extreme mood swings or episodes.  

Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a type of mood disorder that can be further divided into two types – Bipolar I and Bipolar II. 

What is the Difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II?  

So, what exactly is the difference between the two types of bipolar disorders?

Bipolar I disorder requires at least 1 manic episode, which can be preceded or followed by hypomanic and/or major depressive

Diagnostic Criteria for Bipolar I Disorder

To be diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, it is necessary to meet the following criteria that define a manic episode:

Manic Episode

Note: A manic episode comprises criteria 1-4, and at least 1 manic episode is required for the diagnosis of bipolar I disorder.

Bipolar II disorder requires at least 1 major depressive episode and at least 1 hypomanic episode, but no manic episode.

Diagnostic Criteria for Bipolar II Disorder

To be diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, it is necessary to meet the following criteria that defines a hypomanic episode as well as the criteria for a current or past major depressive episode:

Hypomanic Episode

Note: A hypomanic episode comprises criteria 1-5. A hypomanic episode along with major depressive episode should have occurred, no manic episode should have ever occurred, and there should be no psychotic features for the diagnosis to be bipolar II disorder.

Major Depressive Episode

Note: Criteria 1-3 constitute a major depressive episode

While there are several differences between the types, the main differentiating factor is the severity of the mania or hypomania episodes. This means bipolar type I requires a manic episode while for bipolar type II, no manic episode should have occurred. Also, bipolar II does not have any psychotic features such as hallucinations, delusions or loss of touch with reality.

However, bipolar II disorder is not a milder form of bipolar I disorder, but a separate diagnosis. While the manic episodes of bipolar I disorder can be more severe and dangerous, individuals with bipolar II disorder can experience longer periods of depression, causing significant impairment.

What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Symptoms can vary from person to person, and over time. There are three main symptoms of bipolar disorder are mania, hypomania, and depression.

During a manic phase, patients can experience extreme euphoria, happiness, excitement, inflated self-esteem, high levels of energy and haphazard enthusiasm for interpersonal, sexual, or occupational interactions. Such behavior includes irrational shopping sprees, over-indulgence in sex, change in dressing/personal appearances to be more flamboyant, drug use, gambling, jumbled thoughts, hyperactivity, poor judgement that could lead to involuntary hospitalization, difficulties with the law, serious financial difficulties. Sometimes, rapid and sudden shifts in mood can occur from euphoria to dysphoria, irritability, anger or depression.

Delusions are common in a manic phase and some individuals can become hostile, physically threatening and assaultive to others and/or suicidal as they lose touch with reality. Psychotic symptoms, such as delusions, can occur in episodes of mania as well as depression, but not hypomania. A severe mood disorder with psychotic symptoms can sometimes even be misdiagnosed as schizophrenia.

In the relatively milder, hypomanic phase, patients can be erratic, edgy and impulsive. Impulsivity can contribute to suicide attempts and substance use disorders. Anxiety and overexcited, attention deficiency, difficulty in sleeping, and heightened levels of creativity are common symptoms of hypomania. In fact, an individual’s attachment to heightened creativity during hypomanic episodes may contribute to ambivalence about seeking treatment or undermine adherence to treatment.

Other symptoms include depression, feelings of hopelessness, sadness, weariness, loss of energy, irregular eating and sleeping patterns, forgetfulness, worthlessness, melancholy, aggression and suicidal thoughts.

Studies show women with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience milder mania episodes and longer/more depressive episodes. They are also at a higher risk of thyroid disease, obesity, migraines, anxiety, and alcohol use. Additionally, bipolar disorder symptoms can be difficult to identify in children and teenagers, because of normal mood swings, caused by hormonal changes, stress, or trauma.

What are the Causes of Bipolar Disorder?

Genetics is the main known cause of bipolar disorder. People who have a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, with the condition, are more likely to get bipolar disorder.

There are at least 15 different variants of bipolar disorder on gene analysis. Most severe types can be accompanied with delusions, hallucinations, and abnormal behavior while the milder types can be present with periods of elevated mood, increased productivity and irritability, and periods of depression. Some mild forms of bipolar type 2 often go undiagnosed because the sufferers can often manage their lives, maintain their jobs and fulfill their responsibilities successfully.

There are several external factors that increase or exacerbate the risk of bipolar disorder. Exacerbations include extreme stress, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, traumatic experiences such as loss of a loved one, drug or alcohol abuse, certain prescription medication, physical illness, hormone shifts such as during pregnancy, childbirth, menopause.

There are no differences in the risk of bipolar disorder associated with ethnicity, education, marital status, or income.

Is Bipolar Disorder Hereditary?

Yes, bipolar disorder can be passed from parent to child. Research suggests that people who have a relative with the disorder, have up to a 10 times higher chance of developing the disease than those without any family history of the condition.

While genetics clearly play a role in bipolar disorder, it is important to remember that most people with family history, or relatives who have the disorder, do not develop it. In addition, not everyone with bipolar disorder has a family history of the disease.

How do I know if I have Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder doesn’t look the same in each person with bipolar disorder.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder can be difficult. This is because symptoms such as ADHD and schizophrenia can occur without the disorder, and diagnosis in women can often be complicated due to reproductive hormones.

A combination of tests should be done by a doctor or a licensed professional to know if you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder:

  1. Physical exam – This includes blood and urine tests as well as recording your medical and family history
  2. Mental health evaluation – Visiting a psychiatrist who knows how to look for signs of the illness
  3. Mood journal – Keeping a journal to track your moods and chart how you feel and how long these feelings. Doctors may even advise to record sleeping and eating patterns that could cause behavioral changes.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) outlines symptoms for mental health illnesses, including bipolar disorder. Doctors follow these criteria to confirm if you have bipolar disorder.

Remember that bipolar disorder symptoms can cause unpredictable changes in mood and behavior, resulting in significant distress and difficulty in everyday life tasks or in maintaining relationships. See a Doctorif you are experiencing any abnormal behavior, major mood swings, or significant changes in everyday life activities.

Why do people with Bipolar Disorder sometimes experience Stigma?

Most people do not know what bipolar disorder means. The term bipolar has been casually thrown around to describe any type of irrational, or unpredictable behavior. However, bipolar disorder is a specific mental health condition, in which a person experiences periods of depression and periods of elevated mood that lasts for days. People with bipolar disorder do not typically have variable mood swings throughout a day, and are usually not irrational or erratic, except during the extremes of a depression or mania episode.

You can overcome the social stigma around mental health illness and mood disorders, by understanding the illness and be in control of it.

Is Bipolar Disorder Treatable?

Yes. Bipolar disorder is treatable but is not curable. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness that does not have a known cure. However, you can reduce the symptoms and manage your mood swings through a series of treatment options.

In most cases, symptoms of bipolar disorder are treated with medications and psychological counseling, but a detailed treatment plan is individualized based on your specific symptoms.

Why is it Difficult to Treat Bipolar Disorder?

In order to treat bipolar disorder effectively, it is essential to treat both depressive and manic symptoms properly. The manic or hypomanic phase of bipolar disorder is relatively easy to treat. However, the depressive phase is often very difficult to treat.

In fact, it is common for many psychiatrists to only treat manic episodes and neglect to treat depression. This is why many individuals with bipolar disorder remain chronically impaired due to, often untreated, depressive symptoms.

Does Medical Marijuana help with Bipolar Disorder

Not really. The term “medical marijuana” can be misleading. Medical marijuana contains TCS, which can cause psychosis and paranoia.

People with bipolar disorder are already prone to psychotic symptoms. After using marijuana, these bipolar patients have a higher tendency of developing psychosis. Moreover, individuals with bipolar type 2 (milder form) are more likely to develop psychosis, paranoia, hallucinations, after marijuana use, and can wrongly be diagnosed with bipolar type 1 (more serious form).

Therefore, avoid using marijuana or medical marijuana when you have bipolar disorder.

Can I Drink Alcohol if I have Bipolar Disorder?

While you can drink alcohol and consume cannabis when you have bipolar disorder, it is notrecommended. Alcohol may temporarily help during hypomanic and manic phases disorder. However, it only worsens bipolar depression in the long run. Moreover, people with bipolar disorder also have a higher predisposition to addiction.

Therefore, it is advised not to self-medicate your condition with alcohol and/or cannabis and be cautiously conservative with your use of these substances.

Can I get Married if I have Bipolar Disorder? Can I have Kids with Bipolar Disorder?

The short answer is yes! Yes, you can get married and have kids.

With relationships and marriage, it is crucial that you are honest about bipolar disorder. Because bipolar disorder can greatly affect relationships, it is recommended to share with your partner as much information about your condition. Facts such as when you were diagnosed, what to expect during your depressive phases and manic phases, how you treat your mood swings, and how they can help can be extremely useful for both you and your partner.

Treatment is key. Treatment can help deal with symptoms and reduce the severity of changes in your mood. Your partner can also learn ways to help build a happy and healthy relationship.

When it comes to kids, though bipolar disorder can be genetically inherited, it does not usually pass down to children. Research suggests that 1 in 10 children of a parent with bipolar disorder will develop the illness. The fact that the first child has bipolar disorder is not relevant to the chances that the next child will have the disorder. 

Women with bipolar disorder can relapse more often, during pregnancy due to hormonal changes. Therefore, if you suffer from bipolar disorder, it is important that you keep yourself healthy so you can have kids and be a good parent.

Remember, many people with bipolar disorder have successful marriages and are great parents. Fighting the negative social stigma of mental disorders and supporting each other can help you cope with bipolar disorder.

Do people with Bipolar Disorder have Normal Intelligence?

Yes. People with bipolar disorder have normal IQ/intelligence and can manage their condition to live normally. Because people with this mental health condition can experience changes in mood, energy, and activity levels, it can make their day-to-day activities difficult. However, it does not suggest lower intelligence. In fact, research indicates that bipolar disorder may be up to four times more common in straight-A students.

How to Live with Bipolar Disorder?

Implementing certain lifestyle changes can help people with bipolar disorder live healthy and happy lives. Managing bipolar disorder includes:

How to Cope with Bipolar Disorder?

The first step to coping with bipolar disorder is knowing that you are not alone. Studies show 60 million people suffer from and live with this chronic mental illness.

It is vital to remember that bipolar disorder is treatable. By receiving the right treatment, you can successfully control your condition. In fact, some of the world’s most successful people with bipolar disorder have learned to control and use their hypomanic episodes to enhance their productivity and creativity.

Bipolar disorder isn’t all bad. People with bipolar disorder tend to have above-average intelligence, social skills, humor, and creativity. One of the best ways to cope with this mental health condition is to educate yourself and those around you. Knowing what you’re dealing with can not only help you survive this illness but also let you live a happy and healthy life.

Coping with bipolar disorder involves a disciplined lifestyle such as regular eating and sleeping routines, refraining from substance abuse, psychotherapy, and monitored medication.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to seek professional help when you require it. You can always get in touch with us here.

Always Remember


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Online Psychiatrist

Dr. Gundu Reddy, Certified Psychiatrist, NY

Dr. Gundu Reddy is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist with ten years of experience practicing forensic psychiatry and fifteen years of experience practicing clinical psychiatry. Dr. Reddy has served as an expert witness in many high-profile cases, both in the private and public sector, working for both plaintiff and defense

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