Bipolar Disorder



The exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown. Changes in genes may change how the brain works.

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Risk Factors

The risk of bipolar disease is higher if another family member has it.



Symptoms include:

  • Dramatic mood swings—may be very excitable or sad and hopeless. May lead to unrealistic goal setting or exaggerated sense of self-importance.
  • Periods of normal mood in between ups and downs.
  • Extreme changes in energy and behavior.

Mania may cause:

  • A mood that is extremely high or overly good
  • Increased energy and effort toward goal-directed activities
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Racing thoughts, jumping from one idea to another
  • Rapid speech or pressure to keep talking
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Overconfidence or inflated self-esteem
  • Poor judgment, often involving spending sprees and sexual indiscretions

Depression may cause:

  • Prolonged sad, hopeless, or empty mood
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering, and/or making decisions
  • Restlessness or diminished movements
  • Agitation
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Unintended weight loss or gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide with or without suicide attempts

Severe episodes of mania or depression may sometimes be associated with psychotic symptoms, such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorders of thought


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Lab tests may be done to rule out other possible causes of symptoms. A mental health specialist will help to diagnosis bipolar disorder. It will be based on the history of symptoms.

Episodes of mania or depression will also be diagnosed as they occur. Symptoms will need to last a period of time and be severe enough to interfere with day to day life.



Treatment may help to ease mood swings. It can help to decrease effect on day-to-day life and avoid major complications.


Medicine called mood stabilizers is the main treatment for bipolar disorder. Some may be used during a crisis such as severe depression. Others may help with long-term control. The exact plan will be based on individual needs. A medical team will work to find the medicines that have the most benefits and smallest risks. Bipolar disorder medicine may include:

  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants—only during depressive episodes
  • Antiseizure medicines

Treatment should prevent major mood swings. It may take some time to find the best treatment plan.


Psychotherapy can give patients and their families support and help with treatment plan. Therapy may include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy

It can help people stay on track with their treatment plan.

Other Therapy

Some manic or depressive episodes can be severe. Some may also have frequent bipolar cycles. Medicine and therapy may not be effective for this. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) uses controlled electrical currents to reset the brain. It may be a treatment option for those with severe problems.


The cause of bipolar disorder is not clear, so there are no steps to prevent it.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.