How to Diagnose Bipolar Disorder

Three Parts:Understanding the SymptomsVisiting With Your DoctorPreparing For Treatment

Bipolar disorder is a potentially serious mental health issue that affects about every two out of 100 people.[1] It is characterized by extreme mental and behavioral changes, from manic and overly excited states to depressive states. Learning the symptoms of this disorder can help you work with your trusted health care provider and get the best care and treatments you might need. However, you should keep in mind that only a trained health care professional can diagnose bipolar disorder. If you believe that you or someone you know may have bipolar disorder, seek medical attention.

Part 1
Understanding the Symptoms

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    Look for drastic mood changes. Bipolar disorder is known to result in very obvious mood changes to those it affects. These mood changes will swing from being manic to being depressed. How long these moods last and how strong they are will depend on how strong your bipolar disorder is. If you notice extreme changes in your mood, you should visit with your doctor to discover if you might have bipolar disorder.[2]
    • A manic state may make you feel extremely happy, sociable, and possibly irritable.
    • A depressive state can make you feel sad, hopeless, and lose interest in things you enjoy.
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    Pay attention to any behavioral changes. Bipolar disorder can result in changes to your behavior. These behavioral changes will occur in tandem with any mood changes that bipolar disorder causes. Behavioral changes can sometimes be more obvious than mood changes and might indicate a possible case of bipolar disorder.[3][4]
    • In a manic state you may talk quickly, have excess energy, feel restless, or take reckless actions.
    • In a depressed state you may feel tired, have difficulty thinking, or even have thoughts of suicide.
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    Pay attention to how long manic or depressed states last. Emotions that change over time or in response to life events are a normal part of life. However, moods and behaviors that change without connection to outside events and last for long periods of time can be indicative of bipolar disorder. Pay attention to how long your moods last and if they are connected to life events that might make you feel that way.[5]
    • Manic or mixed periods only need to last for seven days to allow for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
    • Some people may have a stable mood in between bouts of mania or depression.
    • Depression that is related to bipolar disorder needs to last for only two weeks.
    • For cyclothymia mild mood swings will last for at least two years.
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    Examine your moods and thoughts for symptoms of mania. Mania is an excitable state that will last for at least a week and possibly longer. A person who is in a manic state will likely be elevated, overconfident, and may begin many grandiose projects in a scattered manner. Look for some of the following elements of a manic episode to help you identify a possible case of bipolar disorder:[6][7]
    • Extreme levels of self-esteem (feeling that you are superior to others and/or feeling that you have little or nothing in common with most people and can only be understood by a select few. You may believe you have almost supernatural powers or that you can speak with God.).
    • Having little need for sleep, feeling rested after only a few hours of sleep.
    • Exhibiting a high or unusual level of talkativeness.
    • Feeling distracted or having racing thoughts.
    • Setting and trying to achieve grandiose goals (believing you have superior qualities — you are genius, omnipotent, etc. — and can achieve the impossible. For instance, you may think you can write a 400-page novel in a day, or achieve literally anything you wish.).
    • Engaging in dangerous behaviors such as making risky investments.
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    Evaluate your mood and behavior for signs of depressive episodes. One of the signals that can identify a case of bipolar disorder is the depressive state. The depressive state can follow either a manic or normal behavioral state and will last for at least two weeks. You can identify a possible depressive episode by looking for behaviors or moods that have at least five or more of the following symptoms:[8][9]
    • Loss of interest in activities that are normally enjoyed or in life generally.
    • Feeling sad or depressed almost every day for the entire day.
    • Taking almost no joy from any activity in life.
    • Feeling worthless, guilty, or believing false ideas almost every day of the depression.
    • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.
    • Weight loss and loss of appetite.
    • Restlessness or visibly slowed actions.
    • Either sleeplessness or sleeping all day.
    • Fatigue and loss of energy.
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    Be aware of the different types of bipolar disorder. Although bipolar disorder is most commonly thought of as being either manic or depressed, there are some additional symptoms and mixed states that can also indicate bipolar disorder. Review the following categories of bipolar disorder and mixed states to identify a possible case of bipolar disorder.[10]
    • Bipolar I disorder is identified by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days. Manic episodes that require hospitalization are also categorized under Bipolar I. Depressive episodes can also be present and will last at least two weeks.
    • Bipolar II is identified by depressive or hypomanic states. There are no extreme manic or mixed states in Bipolar II.
    • Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS) is a category that is used to identify a case of bipolar disorder that doesn't fit in either Bipolar I or Bipolar II. However, BP-NOS is still outside the normal range of behavior or mood for a person.
    • Cyclothymia is a form of bipolar disorder that is much milder than other forms of bipolar disorder. Cyclothymia can cause hypomanic and mild depressive states for at least two years.
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    Make an appointment with your doctor. If you suspect that you might have bipolar disorder or any other mental health issue, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you are able. Diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder sooner, rather than later, can improve the effectiveness of treatment and prevent you from coming to any harm caused by this disorder.

Part 2
Visiting With Your Doctor

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    Come prepared. Before you visit your doctor, you should take some time to prepare for your appointment properly. By having certain relevant information you can help the appointment be a productive one, working efficiently with your doctor to discover if you might have bipolar disorder.[11]
    • Keep track of your symptoms and be ready to inform your doctor of them.
    • Any new and significant life changes that you have recently undergone should be reported.
    • Bring a detailed list of any medications you are currently taking.
    • If your doctor feels you may need further help, you will likely be sent to a psychiatrist for further evaluation.
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    Understand what tests might be administered. Your doctor or psychiatrist will need to perform standard examinations to determine if you have bipolar disorder. These tests are non-invasive but knowing what to expect can help you work with your doctor towards an accurate diagnosis.[12][13]
    • Your doctor may order a physical exam as well as some lab work. These will help to rule out other or additional medical issues that may be causing your symptoms.
    • A psychological examination may be administered. This will be an evaluation of your mood, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It will be a self-assessment, but you can allow family members to take part as well.
    • The BSDS(Bipolar Spectrum Diagnostic Scale) test will present sentences that you will either agree or disagree with. If a sentence describes you, you will be instructed to put a check mark next to it. This allows your doctor to evaluate your condition based on this self-assessment.[14]
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    Get ready to complete a mood chart. Your doctor may give you a mood chart for you to take home and complete. This mood chart will allow you to record your moods every day over a period that your doctor decides to examine. The mood chart will allow your doctor to look for any trends in your mood that can indicate bipolar disorder.[15]
    • You will write down any mood changes that you notice each day.
    • You will likely record your sleep patterns and schedules as well.

Part 3
Preparing For Treatment

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    Take prescribed medications. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you may be prescribed medications. These medications will help to manage your symptoms and keep you balanced in both mood and behavior. Using these medications properly is key to ensuring that they are working as effectively as they can.[16]
    • Mood stabilizers are given to patients with bipolar disorder.
    • Atypical antipsychotics can help with symptoms of mania.
    • If you are suffering from depression caused by bipolar disorder, antidepressants may be administered.
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    Attend psychotherapy sessions. Working with your psychologist or counselor to receive psychotherapeutic treatments can help you to manage and understand your bipolar disorder. Psychotherapy can also help you to recover quickly from any bouts of bipolar disorder and stay balanced and healthy for a longer period.[17][18]
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you work with negative behaviors and thoughts stemming from bipolar disorder.
    • Family-focused therapy can help educate you and your family on how best to work with your needs.
    • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy can help you maintain healthy relationships and life schedules.
    • Your psychologist or counselor will provide instructions that can help you deal with your bipolar disorder.
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    Consider additional treatments. If standard treatments aren't working for your case of bipolar disorder, your health care provider may offer additional treatments. These treatments can help manage symptoms that arise from bipolar disorder and help you return to a healthy state of mind.
    • Electroconvulsive therapy can help to stabilize moods.
    • If you have trouble sleeping your doctor may prescribe sleep aids or sleep medication.[19]


  • If you suspect you have bipolar disorder, make an appointment with your health care provider to learn more.
  • If you are prescribed medication for bipolar disorder always take them exactly as instructed. Talk to your doctor before making any changes.
  • Treating your symptoms as soon as possible can help keep them manageable.


  • Do not ignore any potential mental health issue. Always speak with your health care provider if you suspect you have a mental health issue.

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Categories: Conditions and Treatments | Bipolar Disorder