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January 5, 2012

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder affects nearly six million Americans, typically resulting in extreme, unpredictable shifts between manic and depressive moods. However, Bipolar Disorder may often be difficult to identify. So how exactly IS Bipolar Disorder diagnosed? While Bipolar Disorder is characterized by dramatic mood swings between opposite "poles" of mania or hypomania and depression, there are other illnesses and certain medications that may mimic these symptoms-underscoring the importance of consulting a mental health professional experienced in treating Bipolar Disorder. The mood swings of Bipolar Disorder may often be difficult to distinguish from other illnesses such as: schizophrenia; anxiety, adrenal and thyroid disorders; Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD; borderline personality disorder; and major depression. Additionally, sufferers typically experience the depression symptoms of Bipolar Disorder with significantly greater frequency and intensity than symptoms of mania or hypomania, which they may not recognize-or see as a problem. Consequently, those with Bipolar Disorder may seek help for their depression symptoms, which can mirror those of Major Depression. This may lead to misdiagnosing Major Depression if the health care professional isn't aware of the mania or hypomania symptoms, or if these symptoms haven't yet occurred. The problem with having Bipolar depression and being misdiagnosed with Major Depression is that there is a big difference in treatment. While the most common pharmaceutical treatment for Major Depression is antidepressant medication, antidepressants may aggravate or intensify Bipolar Disorder by triggering a manic episode. An accurate diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder begins with a thorough physical exam to rule out any illness or medication that may be causing symptoms, plus a comprehensive medical history including any history of depression, mood disorder or Bipolar Disorder among immediate family members. Approximately half of Bipolar Depression sufferers have a family member with a mood disorder. Having a parent with Bipolar Disorder may pose a 15-25 percent risk of developing the illness. Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder also involves a complete psychological evaluation including a comprehensive history of symptoms and any previous mental health treatment, along with frequency, intensity and duration of current symptoms. Experts suggest involving family members or close friends in the evaluation can facilitate an objective discussion of symptoms including mood swings, stressors, relationships and life style habits such as alcohol or drug use. Once the evaluation is complete, symptoms are assessed according to criteria from the American Psychiatric Association. Mania symptoms include sudden euphoria or rage, hyperactivity and decreased need for sleep. Hypomania is a mild form of mania. Some Bipolar types may also experience "mixed episodes," in which mania and depression symptoms occur simultaneously. The DSM-IV criteria address the various types of Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar I Disorder is defined by at least one manic episode or one mixed episode, with or without a major depressive episode. Bipolar II Disorder is defined by at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. Cyclothymia involves numerous hypomanic episodes and periods of depression, with symptoms lasting two years or more. Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder is characterized by alternating episodes of mania and depression with in a short period of time. Mixed Bipolar Disorder highs and lows typically occur simultaneously, as either: dysphoric mania, a manic episode with unpleasant or depressed mood; or agitated depression, a depressive episode with mania symptoms. If you think you may be suffering from Bipolar Disorder, please see a mental health professional. You can also find other videos on this site offering more information about Bipolar Disorder.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012