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If you experience severe or random shifts in your ability to concentrate, energy and mood, making it hard for you to get your daily tasks completed, it is possible that you could have bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Bipolar disorder is characterized by three types of mood changes:

  • Manic: People in a manic episode feel extremely energized, irritated or thrilled.
  • Hypomanic: This is similar to a manic episode except the feelings experienced are not as extreme.
  • Depressive: People in a depressive episode feel hopeless or extremely sad or upset. They may lose interest in activities, people or situations.

It is possible for people with any type of bipolar disorder to feel “normal” in between manic, hypomanic or depressive episodes.

Possible causes of bipolar disorder are currently being studied. Generally, researchers believe bipolar disorder can develop due to genetics or changes in brain functioning and structure.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I disorder: People with this disorder have manic episodes for a stretch of seven days or more or have severe symptoms of mania. They may also have depressive episodes lasting two weeks or more at a time. Some people with Bipolar I disorder experience manic and depressive symptoms all at once.
  • Bipolar II disorder: People with this disorder show a pattern of hypomanic and depressive episodes. In a hypomanic episode, which is most likely to allow people to live their normal lives, people with the disorder may not recognize something is wrong.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: People with this disorder have depressive and hypomanic symptoms that come and go or are less severe. The duration of these symptoms is not long enough to be a depressive or a hypomanic episode.

If a person does not fit into one of these types completely but still experiences symptoms of bipolar disorder, they can still be diagnosed as having “other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders,” according to NIMH.

Symptoms of Manic Episodes

These symptoms can correspond with a manic episode:

  • Feeling like you have a lot of power or talent
  • Increased appetite or thirst
  • Increased sex drive
  • Increased ability to complete tasks
  • A restless mind
  • Shifting from one idea to another quickly in conversation
  • Decreased desire to sleep
  • Feeling extremely alert or hyper
  • Feeling thrilled, energized or irritated

Symptoms of Depressive Episodes

These symptoms can correspond with a depressive episode:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling like you have no hope
  • Having no interest in hobbies, activities or completing tasks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Forgetting about tasks or information
  • Speaking slowly
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping excessively
  • Feeling jumpy or slow
  • Feeling anxious, sad or upset


Most patients with bipolar disorder are diagnosed with it in their teenage or early adult years. Children have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well.

Your health care provider can diagnose bipolar disorder by conducting a physical exam, medical tests and a mental health evaluation.

Diagnosis criteria include:

  • Life history and experiences
  • Symptoms
  • Family history in some cases

It is especially important for your provider to obtain a detailed medical history from you to rule out depression.


Most patients with bipolar disorder generally need treatment for the rest of their lives. It is important to follow the treatment plan to effectively manage the disorder and have a better quality of life. Treatment plans generally include therapy and medication.

Medication options include mood stabilizers, such as valproate or lithium, and atypical antipsychotics. Antidepressant medication is also prescribed if the patient has depressive episodes. If antidepressant medication is prescribed, a mood stabilizer is always prescribed with it to avoid the patient going into a manic episode.

If you are prescribed medication, here are some tips to help you:

  • Ask your provider about the benefits and risks of the medication.
  • Take your medication as prescribed, even when you are feeling normal or well.
  • Tell your provider if you have any side effects from the medication. Do not stop taking the medication without getting cleared from your provider.
  • Keep your provider up to date with other medications or supplements you take.

Therapy helps patients manage their behaviors, thoughts and feelings. Patients with bipolar disorder may benefit from individual, group or family therapy. Patients can especially benefit from psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or social rhythm therapy.

If medication and therapy are not enough, electroconvulsive therapy can be an option to stimulate your brain and lessen symptoms.

Here are some other tips to help you make the most of your life with bipolar disorder:

  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Stay connected with people who can help you when needed, such as friends or family members.
  • Keep a log of your health, activities and moods.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Have a set routine for your tasks, making consistent time for exercise, meals and sleep.
  • Follow your treatment plan, but remember your provider should allow you to adjust your treatment plan and set your own goals.

With proper treatment, many people with bipolar disorder may have their symptoms and functioning improve and live better lives. UofL Health – Peace Hospital can be reached at 502-451-3333 for a no-cost level-of-care assessment and assistance with treatment options. Also, UofL Physicians – Psychiatry and Depression Center can provide hope to patients with bipolar disorder. The center can be reached at 502-588-4450.

If you ever have suicidal thoughts, dial 988, which is a free crisis hotline.

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Article by:

Greg Oerther, CSW

Greg Oerther, CSW, earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Kentucky in social work. Since 2005, he has been a certified social worker in Kentucky. At UofL Health he has served as the behavioral outreach coordinator with UofL Health – Peace Hospital since 2015.

All posts by Greg Oerther, CSW
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