Bipolar Disorder: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Shreya Nayak

January 20, 2022

The brain is a complex organ that controls all our moves, decisions, and mood. Therefore, specific changes in the brain may lead to abnormal functioning of our bodies and emotions. Disorders caused due to abnormalities in the brain are called mental disorders. One such example is bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is a type of mental disorder where a person experiences extreme mood changes throughout the day. According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 2.8% of adults in the United States have bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder can make people experience emotional highs called mania or hypomania.Similarly, people experience dynamic lows that are regarded as depression. People can experience these varying emotions daily.

Bipolar disorder can also affect a person’s energy levels, sleep patterns and ability to focus. It can have long-term effects on career relationships and other parts of your life. 

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong disorder with no cure. However, extensive research is ongoing to determine the proper treatment and even cure for bipolar disorder. Experts worldwide are also researching the underlying cause of bipolar disorder. There are many medications and therapies available to treat symptoms of bipolar disorder. It may help those suffering live a better quality of life.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three types of bipolar disorders: bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymia. 

Bipolar I

Bipolar I disorder shows the most intense symptoms out of all types. A person with bipolar I disorder has suffered from at least one manic episode or major depressive episode. However, they may not have other mental disorders such as schizophrenia and delusion. However, mania may lead to psychosis in some cases where the person experiences altered reality.

Bipolar II

Bipolar II disorder is more common in women. It may happen when a person experiences at least one depressive episode and one or more hypomanic episodes. Bipolar II disorder is a milder version of bipolar I disorder. However, people who have bipolar disorder may experience symptoms more frequently.


Cyclothymic disorders consist of milder symptoms than bipolar disorder. People suffer from this experience for one or two months with no symptoms. In addition, mild hypomania or depressive episodes may follow.

There are other types of related mood disorders as well. People who suffer from mood symptoms other than these might be diagnosed with them.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

According to a study, there are three main types of symptoms that people with bipolar disorder experience. These are extreme highs called mania, extreme lows called depression, and a shift from reality called psychosis.

1. Mania

It is the feeling of an elevated mood. People feel giddy and often have impaired judgment. In addition, they feel euphoric and impulsive during this period. Mania may affect people’s relationships, careers and public life. 

Some symptoms include:

  • A feeling of exhilaration 
  • Missing work 
  • Increased libido 
  • Distraction 
  • Racing thoughts 
  • Increased activity and talkativeness 
  • Abnormal sleeping patterns and engaging in harmful behaviour.

There is another variant of mania called hypomania. It includes the same symptoms as mania. However, their intensity is much lower. The manic episodes may interfere with people’s lives. On the other hand, people suffering from hypomania may not be noticeable to others. Hypomanic episodes are associated with bipolar disorders. However, the episodes aren’t long lasting and they are easily treatable with medication and therapy. 

2. Depression

Bipolar depression may cause these symptoms in a person: 

  • Altered eating habits 
  • Chronic fatigue 
  • Weight fluctuation 
  • Anxiety, hopelessness and feeling of worthlessness 
  • Insomnia 
  • Irritability 
  • Difficulty in focusing 
  • Sadness and guilt, etc.

Bipolar depression may lead to extreme changes in one’s life like losing friends, family, substance abuse, suicide attempts. Depressive episodes may last for days or months. However, they are manageable using treatments like medication and psychotherapy. 

3. Psychosis

Psychosis causes a shift in reality for people who have this bipolar disorder. It means that they experience hallucinations and difficulty grasping reality. Hallucinations may include seeing, hearing, or feeling things that do not exist. Such episodes may last for seconds or longer. 

Psychosis might be ordinary in people who have bipolar disorder I. About 50 to 75% of people suffering from bipolar disorder experience psychosis. There are many medications like antidepressants and antipsychotics which are helpful to treat this symptom. 

Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

It is challenging to diagnose bipolar disorder. Some methods used are mood charting, physical exams, and psychiatric assessments. However, the following techniques can help characterise bipolar disorder as well. 

Lab Tests

Lab tests involve physical examination to determine other illnesses causing the symptoms. Family history is an essential consideration during diagnosis. Also, a psychiatrist may talk to the patient’s friends and family to better understand their symptoms. They may also mention the patient’s sleeping and eating patterns. In addition, the patient may be required to note their mood throughout the day. Then, the psychiatrist will compare the symptoms experienced to other related mental disorders.

Diagnosis in Children

The diagnoses for children and teens are different. It is because the symptoms they show are also different. Therefore, it is hard to tell whether the symptoms are due to bipolar disorder or behavioural changes due to puberty. Additionally, children initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder may later be diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The symptoms of these two conditions are very similar. Hence, it becomes hard to differentiate between them sometimes.

Some early signs of bipolar disorder in children and teens are usual tantrums, acting atypical (acting silly or extremely happy), impulsive behaviour, trouble sleeping, not being tired, crying regularly, anxiety, irritability, feeling lonely, isolating themselves, and much more. 

It is essential to consult a doctor if you or a child experiences a combination of these symptoms. The earlier you diagnose the disorder, the better the chances are of reducing its symptoms.

Gender Differences

Bipolar disorder may be different in women and men. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar II than bipolar I. Most of their symptoms exhibit after childbirth or pregnancy. Therefore, they’re more likely to be diagnosed during their 20s or 30s. Women’s menstrual cycle can affect their bipolar disorder as well. 

On the other hand, men get diagnosed with bipolar disorder much earlier in their life. As a result, they’re more likely to suffer from bipolar I than bipolar II. It means they suffer from more episodes of mania, leading to highly aggressive and impulsive behaviour. 

Risk Factors and Causes of Bipolar Disorder

1. Genetic Markers

People who have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder have a much higher chance of developing it. It may be due to inheritable genetic factors that increase the risk factor for bipolar disorder. The mechanism behind these abnormal genes is still unclear. 

2. Brain Chemistry 

People with altered brain chemistry and physical changes in the brain may be at a higher risk for bipolar disorder. That is because the proportion of neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain can affect our brain’s functioning. When these proportions alter, it can cause mental health disorders. For example, you may get bipolar disorder due to a significant change in the neurotransmitters in the brain. 

3. Environmental Factors

Many environmental factors may affect the risk of bipolar disorder. For example, periods of extreme stress, a traumatic event, or some illnesses may increase the risk chances of bipolar disorder. In addition, these factors may lead to changes in the body and brain, resulting in this mental disorder.

4. Traumatic Head Injury

A traumatic injury to the head may also lead to bipolar disorder symptoms. In addition, some damages like concussions, blunt force trauma, etc., may cause this.

5. Childbirth 

Studies suggest the occurrence of postpartum bipolar disorder symptoms in new mothers. After giving birth, mothers experience an imbalance of hormones in the body. It may lead to psychiatric episodes such as bipolar disorder.

6. Substance Abuse

Substance abuse such as alcohol abuse or drug abuse leads to a higher risk of bipolar disorder. Therefore, substance abuse is common in people who have bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorders: Treatment


Bipolar Disorder: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment- HealthifyMe

There is no scientifically proven cure to treat or prevent bipolar disorder yet. However, it is possible to reduce and manage its symptoms. As a result, people with bipolar disorder can live everyday life. Some treatments include medication, psychotherapies, and lifestyle changes. The specific combination of treatments depends on the type and severity of the bipolar disorder in each person.

1. Medication 

Mood stabilisers reduce the symptoms of bipolar disorders. They contain lithium, which helps balance the fluctuations of neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain. Other medications used are antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety drugs. 

2. Therapy  

A specific type of therapy called psychotherapy may help treat people with bipolar disorder. Therapy helps people talk about their emotions, impulses and other symptoms with their doctor. Additionally, it helps them overcome these obstacles to live everyday life. For children who have bipolar disorder, family therapy is vital. Some other methods of treatment used are cognitive-behaviour therapy and interpersonal therapy. 

3. Lifestyle Changes 

People suffering from mental health disorders often find that sticking to a routine helps. Especially for people who have bipolar disorder, maintaining an everyday routine can help regulate their symptoms. It can include waking up and sleeping at the same time every day. Also, sticking to a healthy diet, regularly exercising, and daily tasks may help.

4. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) 

Medical science professionals use ECT in hospitals to treat bipolar disorder. It applies weak electric currents to the scalp and head. However, it is done under anaesthesia. The goal is to reroute brain signalling pathways so they can function better. It can also help balance the brain’s neurotransmitter and  irregularities in chemical levels.

This method is quite effective. It has about a 70-90% success rate in relieving symptoms. However, it is an extreme procedure compared to medication and therapy. It may have some risks and side effects as well. 

5. Natural Remedies 

Some foods also show positive effects on bipolar disorder symptoms. However, it is essential to consult your doctor before taking in these foods. Some of them include:

6. Omega-3 Rich Foods

Some studies demonstrate how taking omega-3 rich foods can reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder. You can find omega-3 in fatty fish like salmon, mackerels, sardines and tuna. People who don’t eat fish may take omega-3 supplements like fish oil supplements. 

7. Vitamins

Vitamin C, vitamin B9 may help in bipolar disorder. Several studies suggest that they can improve brain health and leave a calming effect. 

8. Magnesium-Rich Foods

Magnesium may help regulate mood and brain functioning. Therefore, you may take magnesium-rich foods or magnesium supplements to reduce mood-related symptoms. 

9. Rhodiola Rosea

It is a type of plant that has properties found in antidepressants. As a result, it may help relieve depression in people with bipolar disorder. 

Prevention of a Bipolar Disorder

You can’t prevent the occurrence of bipolar disorder entirely. However, you may reduce the severity of the symptoms. It is recommended to contact your physician at the first sign of bipolar disorder. Early diagnosis can help with the effective treatment of this mental disorder. 

It is essential to take your medication daily at the right time. Skipping doses can result in episodes of mania, hypomania, or depression. It may also result in withdrawal effects. Also, don’t consume alcohol or drugs while on medication. They can interfere with the medicine or make some symptoms worse. 


Bipolar disorder is a lifelong mental disorder that affects mood. It can happen to anyone, at any age and any gender. Bipolar disorder has a spectrum of emotional highs and lows. On one side of the spectrum, people experience mania or hypomania. During manic or hypomanic episodes, a person feels euphoric and may have impaired impulses. During depressive episodes, a person may feel extreme sadness, loneliness, grief, deprived of motivation and energy, fatigue and more. Either side of the spectrum may last anywhere from hours to days or weeks. 

It is essential to detect early signs of bipolar disorder and consult a doctor. The symptoms of bipolar disorder may be effectively treated using medications. For example, anti-depressive, anti-anxiety and antipsychotics may help control the symptoms. Additionally, psychotherapy and family therapy may help determine causes and solutions to some emotional outbursts and mood swings. It is possible to live every day and lead a healthy life with bipolar disorder. The critical thing to remember is to take your medication on time and follow a routine.

About the Author

Shreya Nayak holds a Master's degree in Psychology from the Indian Institute of Psychology and Research, Bangalore. Shreya's passion to help people led her to pursue this field. As a counsellor, she firmly believes that with compassion, empathy, and guidance one can achieve overall holistic and mental wellness. Shreya uses an eclectic approach which helps her guide her clients in achieving their true potential.

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