Approximately 2.6% of Americans have experienced bipolar disorder in the past year, and at some point in their lives, around 4.4% of the population has encountered this condition. From manic to depressive, bipolar disorder is marked by severe mood and energy changes. While this disorder is a chronic condition with no known cure, most people can effectively manage their symptoms. There are several distinct types of bipolar disorder, and treatment depends on the diagnosis.


Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive syndrome, is a brain condition that induces frequent mood swings and can make it difficult to perform day-to-day activities. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average age for the onset of bipolar disorder is 25, although it may occur at any age.


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Bipolar I Disorder

People with bipolar I disorder have manic episodes that can last seven days or longer. Manic episodes involve high energy, lots of activity, and feelings of euphoria. Sometimes, episodes are so extreme that hospitalization is required. Depression of two weeks or more can accompany these manic phases.


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Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder involves at least one major depressive episode with at least one hypomanic episode. Hypomanic is a less extreme form of manic episode. A hypomanic person may experience speaking faster, speeding thoughts, hyper-alert senses, and a need for less sleep to feel rested.


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Cyclothymic Disorder

This type of bipolar disorder is marked by repeated manic and depressive periods over at least two years — one year for children and adolescents. However, these episodes are not as extreme as those in bipolar I and bipolar II disorders. People with this condition rarely require hospitalization.


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Related Conditions

Bipolar disorder is often diagnosed alongside other mental illnesses, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and substance abuse. In fact, nearly 10% of people with bipolar disorder also have ADHD, and up to 60% have some type of substance abuse problem.


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While there is no way to guarantee a person will not develop bipolar disorder, early treatment can keep symptoms from worsening. In addition, it is wise to avoid alcohol or recreational drugs if you have a family history of bipolar disorder. If diagnosed, it is important to take medications as directed to avoid exacerbating the condition.


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Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of bipolar disorder include extreme shifts between high energy, manic periods and stretches of deep depression. During the manic episodes, a person may feel elated, edgy, productive, and need little sleep. During the depressive periods, a person may feel sad and hopeless, have little energy, and experience a lack of interest in things that they previously enjoyed.


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The diagnosis of bipolar disorder generally follows discussions with doctors or other mental health practitioners. Usually, a full physical exam is performed to rule out physical causes for manic and depressive episodes. Sometimes, those with bipolar disorder are not even aware of their symptoms, especially during manic or hypomanic periods. Doctors can misdiagnose bipolar as depression or another mental illness, which means people with the condition may wait longer to find lasting symptom relief.


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An effective form of treatment for bipolar disorder usually includes a combination of medications and therapy. Medications include mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, can help an individual and their family better cope with symptoms as well as day-to-day activities.


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Risk Factors

There is no single cause of bipolar disorder. Genetic elements are unpredictable, and not everyone with a bipolar parent develops this condition. Factors in a person's environment, such as the loss of a loved one, an accident, or drug abuse, can trigger the onset of bipolar disorder.


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