Bipolar disorder affects about 4.4% of the US population. In this Insider article, Mindpath Health’s Pavan Madan, MD, explains the disease’s major symptoms and available treatments. 

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that is characterized by bouts of mania and depression. Mania is characterized by feelings of euphoria, irritability, or energy while symptoms of depression that include feeling sad, low, or worthless. 

Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is estimated to affect 4.4% of the US population. Here’s how you can tell if you or someone you love might have bipolar disorder, and what you can do to treat it.  

What is bipolar disorder?

“Bipolar disorder is a chronic and debilitating illness,” says Pavan Madan, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health. “While there is no cure for it, like for many other physical and psychiatric problems, it can be well-managed with the help of medications and support.” 

There are three separate types of bipolar disorder: 

  • Bipolar I: People with bipolar I experience a pattern of depressive episodes and manic episodes. Their manic episodes last at least 7 days and are much more severe than other types that may require hospital stays. 
  • Bipolar II: People experience patterns of mania and depression, but their manic episodes are less severe than those with Bipolar I.  
  • Cyclothymic disorder is a mood condition where mood swings are not as severe as those seen in people with bipolar disorder.  

Signs you might have bipolar disorder

The average age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25, and it is equally prevalent across genders. Here are some of the most common signs of bipolar disorder: 

  1. You experience intense periods of depression, combined with periods of energy and excitement

Both manic episodes and depressive episodes can last anywhere from a couple of hours to several weeks. People with bipolar disorder can experience few or no symptoms between these mood episodes. 

  1. Someone in your family also has bipolar disorder

It is believed there is a genetic component to developing bipolar disorder. A 2012 Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience found that people who have a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder have a 15% to 35% greater risk of developing the condition themselves. The likelihood increases to 75% if an individual has two first-degree relatives who have bipolar disorder. 

  1. You have another mental health condition 

The National Institute of Mental Health links it to anxiety disorders, eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and substance abuse disorders.  

If you live with one of the following conditions, you may want to be on the lookout for symptoms of bipolar disorder: 

  • Substance abuse. Researchers found that 25% of patients had alcohol use disorder, 10.4% abused cocaine, and 4.4% abused opiates. 
  • Psychosis. Research suggests that some types of psychosis — episodes where a person has trouble differentiating between what is real and what’s not — might be linked to developing bipolar disorder. They found that 32.2% of the subjects developed either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia after their psychosis, typically within a few years’ time.  

How to get a bipolar diagnosis

If you suspect that you have bipolar disorder, or you’re displaying common symptoms, Madan recommends making an appointment with your primary care physician or a psychiatrist as soon as possible.   

Mental health conditions that have some symptoms in common with bipolar disorder include: 

  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD). Symptoms of BPD include mood swings and impulsive behavior, both of which are seen in bipolar disorder as well.  
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Symptoms of ADHD include periods of hyperactivity, which could be conflated with mania. 

How to treat bipolar disorder

“Bipolar disorder is often treated with the help of medications called mood stabilizers,” Madan says. Common mood stabilizers include: 

  • Lithium (Lithobid) 
  • Valproic acid (Depakene) 
  • Divalproex sodium (Depakote)  

Therapy can also be a helpful treatment option, typically in addition to medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help people identify unhealthy thoughts or behaviors and replace them with healthier alternatives. 

Madan also recommends that people with bipolar disorder try to avoid extreme stress and sleep deprivation, as these can trigger episodes.  

Read the full Insider article with sources. 


Pavan Madan, M.D.

Davis, CA

Dr. Pavan Madan is a board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist. He completed medical school from India, psychiatry residency from Saint Louis University in Missouri, and child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship from Mount Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York. While his practice primarily focuses on medication management, he likes to utilize psychotherapy as well as other non-pharmacological methods ... Read Full Bio »

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