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
  • Periods of normal mood in between ups and downs
  • Extreme changes in energy and behavior

Mania may cause:

  • A mood that is extremely high, overly good, or irritable
  • Increased energy and effort toward goal-directed activities
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Racing thoughts, jumping from one idea to another
  • Talking fast—or pressure to keep talking
  • Problems focusing
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Inflated self-esteem or confidence
  • Poor judgment, often involving sex or spending lots of money

Depression may cause:

  • A long-lasting sad, hopeless, or empty mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex
  • Feeling tired
  • Problems focusing, remembering, and/or making decisions
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Restlessness or fewer movements
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide—with or without suicide attempts

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

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorders of thought


The doctor will ask about 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 be diagnosed as they occur. Symptoms will need to last a period of time. They also need to be severe enough to interfere with day to day life.



Treatment may help to ease mood swings. This can improve functioning and prevent future episodes.


Medicine 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. Medicine may include:

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

Treatment is aimed at stabilizing acute episodes and preventing future mood swings. It may take some time to find the best treatment plan.


Psychotherapy can give people and their families support and help with the 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 an option for those with severe problems.


There are no guidelines to prevent bipolar disorder.

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.