When you hear the words “bipolar disorder,” you may think it’s a condition that’s fairly easy to diagnose. The truth is actually trickier.
If someone’s condition follows the classic bipolar pattern of cycles of elevated and depressed moods, then yes, the diagnosis is straightforward. If symptoms don’t follow the expected order, though, or if symptoms aren’t obvious, diagnosis can be harder.
At Arlington Family Practice in Arlington, Massachusetts, our expert team of providers works hard to give our patients the best chance of defeating illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Here’s some advice on how to identify signs and symptoms of the disease.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression, is a mental health disorder that causes extreme mood swings, from emotional highs (mania or hypomania) to lows (depression).
When you’re in the manic phase, you feel euphoric, like nothing can stand in your way. In the depressive phase, you usually feel sad and hopeless and lose pleasure in all activities.
These mood swings can occur rarely, or several times a year.
What are symptoms of bipolar disorder?
The condition can be difficult to diagnose if symptoms occur in a different order, or if your mania is mild or undetected.
It’s even hard for professionals to be definitive about a diagnosis: About 20% of people who think they have depression actually have bipolar disorder; about half of people see three doctors before getting the correct diagnosis; and most people with bipolar disorder also have other psychiatric conditions (such as anxiety) that make the diagnosis more challenging.
Symptoms of mania include:
- Seeming abnormally upbeat
- Having increased energy
- Having an exaggerated sense of your own abilities
- Needing less sleep
Another sign of mania is making poor decisions, such as taking sexual risks or making risky investments.
Symptoms of a major depressive episode include:
- Marked loss of interest in all activities
- Feeling sad and hopeless
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Decreased ability to concentrate
- Thinking about suicide
How can you treat bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder can’t be cured, but it can be treated and managed well. The best thing you can do is to be diagnosed as soon as possible.
Pay attention to the warning signs — addressing symptoms early can prevent them from turning into a full-blown episode. Avoid drugs and alcohol (they can make symptoms worse), and if you’re on any medications for your condition, make sure you take them exactly as prescribed.
Counseling or therapy may help as well, and your doctor may recommend either a day treatment program or hospitalization. If you’re fighting a drug or alcohol addiction, you need to get treatment for these issues as well.
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, but with the right treatment, it can be effectively managed. If you or someone you love needs help, set up an appointment at Arlington Family Practice by calling our office or using our convenient online scheduling tool. We’re ready to help!