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Managing Bipolar Disorder

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10 Facts About Bipolar Disorder

Medically Reviewed By Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

Bipolar disorder is a mental condition in which you experience fluctuating episodes of mania and depression. Although there is no cure, the symptoms are manageable with various forms of treatment. This article details 10 facts you may not know about bipolar disorder.

What is bipolar disorder?

woman smiling with plants
Maryna Terletska/Getty Images

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition in which cycling mood changes occur. It can interfere with your ability to function effectively in life, causing manic “highs” and depressive “lows.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, bipolar disorder affects men and women assigned at birth equally.

Manic episodes may involve:

  • excitability
  • irritability
  • feeling unusually active or “wired”
  • feeling unusually powerful or important

Depressive episodes may include:

  • low energy
  • sadness
  • despair

Visit our hub to read more about mental health and behavior.

10 facts about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is not as easy to identify or understand as it might seem, in part because the nature of bipolar episodes can vary so much from person to person.

Some facts about bipolar disorder may seem surprising, especially because there are still myths and misconceptions surrounding the condition.

Read more about bipolar disorder here.

1. You can feel mania and depression at the same time

Bipolar disorder symptoms usually go back and forth between highs and lows. During a high, you might feel extremely energetic. You may be anxious and not able to sit still. A few weeks later, you might feel exhausted and sick. This is a depressive episode.

However, sometimes people feel symptoms of highs and lows at the same time. Mixed mania and mixed state are other names for feeling mania and depression at the same time.

2. Your family, life events, and health can increase your risk

Anyone can get bipolar disorder. It often runs in families, however. Sometimes something very stressful or a big life change can trigger bipolar disorder. Losing someone you love is an example.

People with bipolar disorder also are more likely than others to have certain health problems, such as obesity or heart disease.

3. Bipolar disorder can affect children

Most people show signs Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source of bipolar disorder in late adolescence, but it can strike at any age.

Children with bipolar disorder may have severe, violent fits for a long time and then act extremely happy at other times. Teenagers may make choices that are dangerous. Their grades may drop. Or, they might stop sports or activities they once used to enjoy.

4. Symptoms can worsen during pregnancy

Females are more likely Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source to have an episode of mania or depression during pregnancy than at other times. The risk is greater for a few months after childbirth.

Changes in hormones, stress, and not getting enough sleep probably trigger Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source bipolar episodes during pregnancy. Skipping treatment can make these episodes more likely.

5. Both manic and depressive episodes can put you in great danger

Times of depression may trigger thoughts of suicide or harming yourself. It is important to seek immediate help for these thoughts. Times of mania can also be dangerous. People may behave recklessly and make dangerous choices.

Suicide Prevention

If someone you know is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, or at risk of suicide: 

  • Ask the question, “Are you considering suicide?” even if it is tough.
  • Listen without judgment.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number. 
  • Stay with them until emergency services arrive.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful items.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • Call 988 
  • Chat with the lifeline

This service is available 24-7.

6. The average age of onset is 25

The symptoms of bipolar disorder — periods of intense activity and little sleep countered with periods of deep depression — typically appear in the teen or early adult years. No one really knows why bipolar disorder most often appears at this stage of life.

However, it is important to know that bipolar disorder can appear at any age. Children can have bipolar disorder. So can older adults.

7. Bipolar disorder can lead to disability

As bipolar disorder affects a person’s mood, energy and behavior, it may dramatically affect Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source someone’s ability to hold a job, maintain a relationship, manage finances, and effectively parent children.

It is also not uncommon for bipolar disorder to exist alongside other health conditions, such as:

  • migraine headaches
  • heart disease
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • thyroid disease
  • substance misuse

Any one of these conditions can make it difficult to function on a daily basis. Adding extreme mood swings to poor physical health explains why bipolar disorder is a leading global cause of disability.

8. There are four different types of bipolar disorder

Medical and mental health providers recognize four types of bipolar disorder: 

  1. Bipolar I disorder: A person can experience at least one manic episode lasting at least 1 week.
  2. Bipolar II disorder: A person can experience one hypomania episode lasting at least 4 days and one major depressive episode lasting about 2 weeks.
  3. Cyclothymic disorder: This is a mild form of bipolar disorder in which a person experiences frequent mood changes. However, these changes are not severe enough for the classification of bipolar disorder.
  4. Other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders: These are any bipolar disorder that does not fit into the other categories.

9. Treatment helps people live productive lives

There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but counseling and medication can help people control bipolar symptoms. Medications commonly used to treat bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers such as lithium and antidepressants.

Counseling, or talk therapy, with a trusted provider helps people and their families better understand and manage symptoms. Finding the treatment or combination of treatments that best control symptoms with minimal side effects can take time.

Treatment does not cure bipolar disorder, but consistent, long-term management can control symptoms and help people live successfully.

10. Bipolar disorder is common

Bipolar disorder is common and not rare as some may think. An estimated 2.8% of adults Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source in the United States have bipolar disorder.

There are many triggers for bipolar disorder, including:

  • having a relative with bipolar disorder
  • misuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs
  • periods of intense stress such as the death of a loved one, or childhood emotional abuse

Frequently asked questions

Here are some common questions about bipolar disorder.

What is unique about bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder involves unusual shifts in mood, from depression to mania.

What are the signs of bipolar disorder?

Signs of bipolar disorder can include extreme mood swings, feeling down, depressed, or low on energy, to feeling unusually “high,” excitable, or overly elated.

Is bipolar I or II worse?

Recent research Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests depressive episodes in bipolar I are longer and more severe than in bipolar II.

Summary

Bipolar disorder is a common mental health condition that involves cycling mood swings of depression and mania. Many people may not know certain facts about this disorder, such as symptoms worsening during pregnancy or life events increasing your risk of an episode.

With treatments such as medication and therapy, you can manage bipolar disorder symptoms and live a productive life.

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Medical Reviewer: Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 10
View All Managing Bipolar Disorder Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.