Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment

Learn about bipolar disorder, the different types, causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Table of Contents

What is Bipolar Disorder?

When someone has mood swings, they often refer to themselves as being bipolar. While this may commonly be associated with bipolar disorder, it isn’t the entirety of the affliction. If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from bipolar disorder, keep reading to understand what qualifies as a diagnosis, and some of the available treatments.



Bipolar disorder, sometimes abbreviated as BPD, is a mental health disorder that causes extreme mood swings. These mood swings aren’t just going from happy to sad, though. The emotional highs are characterized as mania or hypomania, and the lows are severe forms of depression.



Mania is more than just being happy; it involves feeling euphoric. The depression associated with BPD leads to hopelessness and a loss of interest, resulting in not participating in everyday life activities.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder isn’t just one disorder. Instead, it’s a family of mental health conditions differentiated by severity. When talking about BPD, any of the three following conditions may be the center of the discussion:

  • Bipolar I Disorder: Characterized by the individual having at least one manic episode preceded or followed by hypomanic or depressive episodes. Mania may cause psychosis.
  • Bipolar II Disorder: Characterized by having at least one depressive episode and one hypomanic episode.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder: At least two years in adults, or one year in children, of many hypomania episodes and depressive episodes.

Causes and Symptoms

As bipolar disorder has been studied further, more conditions have come to light about its causes.

Potential Causes of Bipolar Disorder

In the past, bipolar disorder was thought to be solely caused by genetics. While this is still true, and the disorder seemingly runs in families, there are other factors to be considered, as well.

Biologically, bipolar disorder is thought to be caused by an underlying problem in specific brain circuits. These circuits have issues with the neurotransmitters that tell the brain to do specific things. With these circuits unable to receive the messages correctly, scientists believe that mood swings are caused, ultimately causing bipolar disorder.

Additionally, environmental factors seem to cause bipolar disorder in individuals prone to the condition. Environmental stressors cause the neurotransmitters to be released, causing bipolar disorder to become apparent.

Signs and Symptoms of Different Bipolar Disorders

As discussed above, there are different bipolar disorders. Each type of bipolar disorder has different signs and symptoms to be aware of.

  • Bipolar I Symptoms: The most severe disorder. Individuals may experience a break in reality via manic episodes and debilitating major depressive episodes.
  • Bipolar II Symptoms: Less severe than bipolar I. Individuals experience hypomania (less severe mania) and episodes of depression. Mood swings are still noticeable.
  • Cyclothymia Symptoms: Ongoing mood swings that are hypomanic and depressive in nature. The least severe in the family of conditions.

Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

A formal diagnosis is necessary when you believe you or a loved one may be suffering from bipolar disorder. In general, diagnosis is going to consist of 4 parts:



  • Physical exam: A physical exam is performed to rule out any underlying physical causes for symptoms.
  • Psychiatric assessment: Psychological assessment performed by a psychiatrist may take place, as well as a self-questionnaire regarding your symptoms.
  • Mood charting: Keeping track of mood over time can help identify highs and lows and the type of bipolar disorder occurring.
  • Criteria for bipolar disorder: Symptoms are compared with the criteria listed in the DSM-5 to ensure that the diagnosis fits.

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder is one of the most studied mental health conditions today. There are several different treatment options available to those suffering from bipolar disorder. These may include any of the following or a combination of two or more. In most cases, treatment is a multi-pronged approach.

Medications

There is a range of different medications available for those suffering from bipolar disorder. The types below are the most prescribed, each of which helps with varying symptoms of BPD.

  • Mood stabilizers: Mood stabilizers help alleviate the drastic mood swings experienced by people suffering from bipolar disorder.
  • Antipsychotics: Often, mood stabilizers take some time to reach full effect, and antipsychotics are prescribed to prevent severe mania from occurring.
  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants help with the issues experienced when mood swings reach emotional lows.
  • Antidepressant-antipsychotic: Used to improve moods while lessening the risk of mania.
  • Anti-anxiety medications: Anti-anxiety medications assist patients that deal with environmental triggers.

Psychotherapy

In addition to medications, a form of psychotherapy is usually prescribed to patients. This helps patients monitor their moods and the efficacy of their medications.



  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT): Therapy that helps stabilize circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle).
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Therapy that aims to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Psychoeducation: Evidence-based therapeutic intervention for patients and their loved ones that provides information and support to understand BPD better.
  • Family-focused therapy: A form of psychoeducation that focuses on a patient’s family’s involvement.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS is a non-invasive form of brain stimulation that aims to correct the brain’s circuits causing BPD in patients. TMS uses an electric current via electromagnetic induction to repair brain connections.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

ECT is the use of electricity to induce seizures. The seizures may positively impact brain function and repair the broken connections.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

In addition to formal medical treatment, there are certain things that can be done at home by those suffering from BPD. Among them are the following:

  • Regular exercise: Regular exercise may help to stabilize your emotional highs and lows.
  • Consider keeping a mood chart: Tracking mood as it happens is important and may help you understand your BPD triggers.
  • Meditation: Meditation as a form of mindfulness can help bring individuals back to their center.
  • Create a healthy routine: A healthy routine helps your mental health flourish.
  • Form healthy relationships: Having healthy relationships with people you can rely on can help with the causes and symptoms of BPD for many.