Bipolar Disorder Signs and Symptoms

Are you concerned you or a loved one may be struggling with bipolar disorder?  If you’ve noticed any of the below warning signs or symptoms, it may be time to reach out for professional help.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness that plagues millions of people throughout the world. It is a devastating illness that causes those suffering from it to experience unpredictable cycles of extreme emotional highs and extreme emotional lows. These dramatic mood swings can cause significant disruption in an individual’s life, causing problems at work, home, or in social settings. The symptoms of bipolar disorder do not only have negative effects on the person who has the illness, but on the lives of those around that person as well.  With proper treatment, those suffering from Bipolar Disorder can live happy, healthy and productive lives.

Bipolar disorder presents itself in different forms and in different stages of severity. When someone is given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, it is classified into one of three specific types.  These types include:

Bipolar I is considered to the most severe form of bipolar disorder as it is characterized by extremely intense periods of both depression and mania. The presentation will vary depending on the person, with some experiencing depression more than mania or vice versa, typically cycling between the two. In some cases, people will experience a mixed state which occurs when a person experiences symptoms of both mania and depression simultaneously.

Bipolar II is less severe than bipolar I and occurs when people experience chronic, extreme periods of depression but have also experienced one or more hypomanic episodes. Hypomanic episodes are a less severe form of mania.

Cyclothymic disorder is classified by patterns of disturbances in one mood that alternate between periods of mild or moderate hypomania and depression. When someone has cyclothymic disorder, he or she experiences symptoms in a less severe manner and in less frequency than those who have bipolar I or bipolar II.


Bipolar disorder statistics

An estimated 5.7 million people over the age of 18 in the United States have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is equivalent to approximately 2.6% of the population. The symptoms of bipolar disorder are believed to most commonly present themselves in people around the age of 25, but anyone of any age can suffer from it.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

There is not any one specific cause that has been linked to the onset of bipolar disorder. However, professionals in the field believe that it is the result of a combination of different factors working together to lead to its development. These factors include:

Genetic: Bipolar disorder is believed to have a strong genetic link because it is known to run in families. It has been said that people who have a biological parent who has bipolar disorder are 15%-25% more likely to develop the illness than those who do not have a parent suffering from the disorder. However, bipolar disorder has been known to develop in people who do not have any such family history.

Physical: Chemical imbalances in the brain are also believed to play a role in whether or not a person will experience the onset of bipolar disorder. These chemical imbalances can occur as a result of certain neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals responsible for sending messages throughout the various parts of the brain, not functioning properly. It has also been said that having extreme fluctuations within one’s hormones can add to the likelihood that a person will develop bipolar disorder.

Environmental: There are some professionals in the field who believe that environmental causes can have a direct link to the onset of bipolar disorder. However, it is more commonly believed that certain environmental factors, such as altered health habits or the abuse of alcohol and drugs, can add to the severity of the onset of the disorder or to a person developing the disorder earlier in life, rather than believing it to be the sole cause.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Major life changes or stressors
  • Experiencing severe trauma
  • Drug or alcohol abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

The signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder will vary from person to person in form and severity. They will also differ depending on whether the person is experiencing a depressive episode or a manic episode. The following are some examples that may indicate that a person is suffering from bipolar disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Depressive episode
    • Spends a great deal of time in bed
    • Isolates oneself from family and friends
    • Misses multiple days of work
    • Participates in self-harming behaviors
    • Makes suicide attempts
  • Manic episode
    • Speaks rapidly
    • Acts impulsively
    • Participates in high-risk behaviors
    • Hypersexuality
    • Makes grandiose statements or behaves in a grandiose manner
    • Acts out aggressively

Physical symptoms:

  • Depressive episode
    • Noticeable weight gain or weight loss
    • Increased need for sleep
    • Scrapes, cuts, bruises, or other marks indicative of self-harming behaviors
  • Manic episode
    • Decreased need for sleep, sometimes going days without sleeping
    • Lack of appetite
    • Extreme fluctuations in bodily temperature

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Depressive episode
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Inability to think clearly
    • Inability to make decisions
    • Having visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Manic episode
    • Racing thoughts
    • Flight of ideas
    • Poor concentration
    • Having visual or auditory hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depressive episode
    • Overwhelming feelings of guilt
    • Lowered self-esteem
    • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
    • Excessive feelings of worry and anxiety
    • Suicidal ideation
  • Manic episode
    • Inflated self-esteem
    • Excessive irritability or agitation
    • Feeling as though one is invincible and that nothing can harm him or her
    • Prolonged periods of emotional excitability


Effects of bipolar disorder

While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, with proper treatment and medication, its symptoms can be successfully managed. When left untreated, however, the effects of bipolar disorder can be devastating. Some examples of the effects that untreated bipolar disorder can have on a person include:

  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Failure to successfully develop and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Occupational failure / unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Criminal involvement or legal problems
  • Ongoing self-injury
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

It is common for people who have bipolar disorder to suffer from another mental illness as well. Sometimes the symptoms of the co-occurring disorders will overlap with the symptoms of bipolar disorder or the two sets of symptoms will conflict with one another, causing further distress and disruption in the lives of those individuals. Some of the disorders that have been known to co-occur with bipolar disorder include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance abuse disorders

Need help finding the best treatment for your loved one?
Lost? Confused? We can help.