Psychology / Psychiatry

How to spot bipolar symptoms in yourself

Bipolar disorder can cause a person’s moods to fluctuate between extreme highs and lows, sometimes to such an extent that they struggle to carry out everyday tasks. A person who suspects that they have bipolar disorder should talk to their doctor.

Bipolar disorder interferes with a person’s moods and activity level. Doctors diagnose people of all ages with bipolar disorder.

However, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the average age of a person developing bipolar disorder is 25.

There are many treatments available to help people with bipolar manage their symptoms.

Signs and symptoms

Older women with insomnia due to bipolar disorder lies awake in bed next to alarm clock
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can include disruption to sleep patterns, including insomnia.

People with bipolar disorder can experience extreme mood swings and shifts in energy levels.

These symptoms may disrupt their life.

There are several different types of bipolar disorder.

The symptoms a person experiences will vary depending on the type of bipolar disorder they have and whether they are having a manic or depressive episode.

People with bipolar I disorder need only have a manic episode. They may experience a major depressive episode, but it is not necessary for the bipolar I diagnosis.

Symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • feelings of euphoria, or being very “up”
  • higher energy and activity levels
  • jumpiness
  • talking very fast
  • agitation and irritability
  • insomnia
  • racing thoughts
  • engaging in reckless behavior, such as excessive money spending or dangerous driving

Symptoms of a major depressive episode include:

  • feeling very sad, hopeless, or empty
  • lower energy and activity levels
  • difficulty concentrating
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • inability to enjoy things that normally bring pleasure
  • feeling very tired or slow
  • suicidal thoughts

Specific symptoms for each bipolar type

The symptoms and their severity will depend on which type of bipolar disorder a person has.

The types of bipolar disorder are:

  • bipolar I
  • bipolar II
  • cyclothymia
  • other specified and unspecified bipolar disorders

Bipolar I

Symptoms of bipolar I disorder may include severe manic episodes that last at least a week. A person with bipolar I may have manic episodes severe enough to require hospitalization, in which case the episode may last for any duration.

Following the manic episodes, a person with bipolar I may experience a return to their baseline mood, or they can experience a major depressive episode. However, this is not necessary for diagnosis.

Bipolar II

Unlike those with bipolar I, people with bipolar II experience a major depressive episode either preceding or following a hypomanic episode, which includes the symptoms of mania but is not as severe as a full manic episode.

In bipolar II, the depressive episodes may be severe and require treatment in the hospital.

Cyclothymia

People with cyclothymia experience many periods of hypomanic symptoms, as well as multiple periods of depressive symptoms.

While those with cyclothymia may experience both hypomanic and depressive symptoms, they will not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic or depressive episode.

For a doctor to diagnose a person with cyclothymia, the person must experience symptoms for at least 2 years, or 1 year in children and adolescents.

Unspecified or other specified bipolar and related disorders

In some cases, a person may experience symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not fit into the other three types.

In such cases, they may receive a diagnosis that doctors call unspecified bipolar and related disorders or other specified bipolar and related disorders. This will depend on the type, duration, and severity of their symptoms.

When to see a doctor

Man with bipolar and woman in kitchen not talking to each other.
Having bipolar disorder can sometimes affect a person’s relationships.

People with bipolar disorder may not realize that their moods and behavior are disrupting their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

Because of this, people who have bipolar disorder often do not get the medical attention and treatment they require. This is especially true during their euphoric manic periods.

People with bipolar disorder are more likely to seek help when they experience a depressive episode.

Because of this, the doctor may incorrectly diagnose the person with depression instead.

Once a doctor diagnoses someone with bipolar disorder, they should see their doctor often to evaluate how well any prescription medications are working. Also, a doctor may recommend that a person with bipolar talk regularly with a mental health professional.

When to seek urgent care

Sometimes, a person with a bipolar disorder diagnosis may need emergency medical attention.

People with bipolar disorder should go to the emergency room or call 911 if they are:

  • having suicidal thoughts
  • having thoughts of self-harm
  • a danger to themselves or others

Also, in some cases, a person who has bipolar disorder may not realize that emergency help is necessary. When this is the case, a friend or relative may need to intervene and get the person the help they need.

Treatment and prevention

A person cannot prevent themselves from developing bipolar disorder, but there are treatments that can help them manage the symptoms. Treatment may also reduce the severity and frequency of both manic and depressive episodes.

Doctors normally recommend medication, or a combination of medications, and talk therapy for a person with bipolar disorder.

Medication for bipolar disorder may include:

  • mood stabilizers
  • anticonvulsants
  • antipsychotics
  • antidepressants
  • anti-anxiety medication
  • sleep medications

It will probably take some time for a doctor and a person with bipolar disorder to find the best combination of medication. In some cases, medication and talk therapy may not be able to control a person’s bipolar disorder.

In such cases, a doctor may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). During ECT, a specialist will apply a brief electrical current to the person’s scalp while they are under anesthesia.

This current induces a seizure. People generally need to repeat the procedure several times for full effect. The mechanism by which this procedure works remains the subject of debate.

Once a person finds a treatment that works for them, it is crucial that they continue it. If the treatment includes medication, the person should not stop taking it or skip doses, even if they are feeling better. Bipolar disorder is a recurring and lifelong condition, and skipping medication may trigger an episode.

Lifestyle changes

Young man with bipolar stands in grocery store with basket full of vegetables.
Eating healthful foods and avoiding alcohol can help prevent episodes of bipolar disorder.

A person with bipolar disorder can also help prevent or lessen episodes by making lifestyle changes, including:

  • keeping a mood chart or journal
  • avoiding alcohol and illegal drugs
  • finding supportive people, either through friends and family or support groups
  • forming and nurturing healthy relationships
  • getting enough sleep
  • following a healthful diet and exercise routine
  • speaking to a doctor before taking any other medications
  • practicing stress management techniques, such as meditation

Outlook and takeaway

People with any type of bipolar disorder may find it hard to deal with and manage the condition.

There are many treatment options available, but it is a lifelong condition.

People with bipolar disorder must continue with their treatment to help manage their symptoms. Episodes of mania and depression tend to recur even with treatment, but the frequency and severity may lessen.

It is crucial for a person with bipolar disorder to work with their doctor to control their symptoms through medications and therapy. A person who has bipolar disorder may need emergency medical attention if they have suicidal thoughts or pose a danger to themselves or others.

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