Do I Have Bipolar Disorder? Signs and Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By Francis Kuehnle, MSN, RN-BC
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Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by periods of extreme ups or extreme downs. People with bipolar disorder can live full, healthy, and fulfilling lives with the right treatments and coping methods. Although most people living with bipolar disorder have extreme highs and lows, each person has a unique experience.

Doctors usually first diagnose bipolar disorder during late adolescence or early adulthood. The condition may also appear during pregnancy or after birth and sometimes during childhood. 

This article will explain the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder.

What is bipolar disorder?

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Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition without a known cause. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), about 2.8% of people in the United States have bipolar disorder, with both males and females at equal rates. 

People living with the condition may experience extreme, dramatic shifts in behavior, thinking, and feeling. Everyone experiences ups and downs from time to time, but someone with bipolar disorder may have extreme shifts and may not be aware of how they think or act. 

However, with treatment, you can manage the symptoms of the condition.

NAMI states there are three types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I disorder: People can experience manic episodes lasting 1 week or longer. During the manic state, someone may not sleep, be present in reality, and partake in harmful behavior. The manic phase includes at least 2 weeks of depression. In some forms of bipolar 1, someone may experience both manic and depressive symptoms at once. 
  • Bipolar II disorder: Someone will have periods of mania and depression, but they will not be as severe as bipolar I. 
  • Cyclothymic disorder: People do not experience the full symptoms of depression and mania but will have periods of both over at least 1-2 years.

Someone living with bipolar disorder may go for years without symptoms or have periods in which the symptoms are not as severe.

Because people with bipolar disorder are not always aware of their mood and behavioral shifts, diagnosis can be difficult. 

Read about bipolar disorder here.

What are the signs of bipolar disorder? 

Signs of bipolar disorder include periods of mania and depression, each lasting weeks or months. Sometimes, a person with bipolar disorder will experience periods of calm between mania and depression.

Mania symptoms can include:

  • feelings of happiness and joy
  • talking extremely fast
  • high energy levels
  • not sleeping
  • engaging in harmful behavior
  • not eating
  • not being able to focus
  • feeling like you want to make a lot of new plans
  • hallucinations
  • spending large amounts of money 

Depression symptoms can include:

  • extremely low energy levels
  • feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • feeling irritable
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • delusions
  • appetite changes
  • loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • exhaustion
  • not being able to sleep 

Someone with bipolar disorder can experience alternating periods of these symptoms at intense levels. 

Read more about the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

What are causes and risk factors of bipolar disorder? 

Bipolar disorder is a complex disorder. Doctors are uncertain of the condition’s exact cause.  

Family history

There is a strong genetic association with bipolar disorder. People who have a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder have a seven times higher risk of developing the condition than someone who does not have a relative with it, according to twin studies.

Still, despite the association, researchers note that a family link is not established. 

Risk factors

Studies have looked at prematurity and viral infections as potential risk factors without conclusive results. 

A 2018 study noted that a T. gondii infection during pregnancy might be a potential risk factor for the baby later developing bipolar disorder. More research is needed.

Also, there is no clear ethnic or socioeconomic association with the development of bipolar disorder. The condition occurs equally in males and females, and the average age of diagnosis is 25. 

Childhood trauma may be a risk factor for mental health conditions that occur later in life, including bipolar disorder. Stress and traumatic life events, such as the loss of a child, divorce, death in the family, or unemployment, also seem to link to the onset of bipolar disorder. 

Related disorders 

The 2018 study also described how bipolar disorder links to many other disorders. However, because the disorders link, it does not mean one disorder causes the other. 

It is also possible underlying causes are occurring. For instance, study researchers note that inflammation may play a role. 

Bipolar disorder can link to: 

Sometimes, people with bipolar disorder may be misdiagnosed with other mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder

What are examples of bipolar disorder behavior in others?

For a health professional to diagnose bipolar disorder, a person must have at least one manic episode that lasts at least 1 week and one depressive episode that lasts more than 2 weeks. 

Although it can be difficult to identify some symptoms of bipolar disorder in people, extreme changes in behavior may be a sign.

For instance:

  • taking extreme physical risks
  • spending a large amount of money impulsively
  • exhibiting harmful behaviors
  • acting invincible
  • appearing shaky or jittery 
  • not sleeping at all or sleeping all of the time
  • extreme isolation

How do you treat bipolar disorder? 

Like many mental health disorders, you can best treat bipolar disorder through a combination of therapies that include: 

  • therapy
  • antipsychotic medications
  • antidepressants
  • mood stabilizers
  • self-management strategies and education
  • exercise 
  • meditation

Working with a medical team can help people living with bipolar disorder manage their condition. Treatment can be effective and help people with bipolar disorder live healthy and fulfilling lives. 


Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition involving extreme mood shifts. Each person has a unique experience of the condition. Mood episodes can last just a few hours or days for some people. For others, they might last for weeks or months.

Symptoms of mania include extreme energy, taking risks, and harmful behavior. Symptoms of depression can include hopelessness, no longer enjoying activities, and sleeping too much or too little. 

Some people may go years without symptoms or have periods without symptoms. Diagnosing the condition can be challenging because it often coincides with other disorders, such as anxiety and ADHD.  

Treatment for bipolar disorder includes a combination of medication, therapy, and behavioral management. People with bipolar disorder who follow a treatment plan can live happy, healthy lives. 

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Medical Reviewer: Francis Kuehnle, MSN, RN-BC
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 30
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