How do I know if I have bipolar?
Bipolar affects everyone differently and can be difficult to diagnose, but there are some common signs that can help you identify the illness. A mood scale - see our 'Could mood swings mean bipolar?' leaflet - will help you and your doctor understand your mood swings.
Take a completed mood scale with you to your next appointment with your doctor and tell them how you have been feeling over a period of time. If you feel comfortable you could complete the mood scale and see your doctor with someone close to you.
Sometimes your GP may refer you to a specialist – usually a psychiatrist. Diagnosis should always be undertaken by an appropriately trained medical professional. It is not advisable to self diagnose.
Are there different types of bipolar?
The majority of individuals are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However some medical professionals may explain your illness in terms of a particular categorisation.
Individual’s mood swings move across the mood scale encompassing both manic episodes and depression.
Untreated, manic episodes generally last three to six months.
Depressive episodes last rather longer – six to 12 months - without treatment.
Individuals experience a prevalence of depression. Likely to have more than one episode of severe depression, and the majority of individuals with Bipolar II will experience hypomania (6 to 8 on the mood scale) rather than extreme manic episode (8 to 10 on the mood scale).
Symptoms of mania and depression are present at the same time, which may result in agitation, trouble sleeping and significant change in appetite, psychosis and suicidal thoughts.
This occurs when individual’s mood swings change faster. More than four mood swings happen in a 12-month period. Rapid Cycling affects around one in ten people with bipolar, and can happen with Bipolar I and II.
Individuals experience mood swings but at a much lower level. Symptoms must last for a period of at least two years, with no period longer than two months in which there has been a stable state and no mixed episodes. Although individuals diagnosed with cyclothymia are on the bipolar spectrum, the relative mildness of the mood swings means you are not diagnosed with bipolar. However cyclothymia can develop into bipolar.
Sometimes severe mania (8 to 10 on the mood scale) or depression (2 to 0 on the mood scale) is accompanied by periods of psychosis. Psychotic symptoms include hallucinations and delusions.
Is there a cause or cure for bipolar?
Although much progress has been made in understanding bipolar and how it can be managed, research has still not led to either a consensus on the cause or a cure.
Some research suggests that there is, if not a known genetic link, then certainly an inherited predisposition to developing bipolar.
It is also known that stressful life events may often precede an episode of mania, hypomania or depression.
As our understanding of the function of the brain increases, more insights and more effective medication can be developed. This is why Bipolar UK works in partnership with research organisations.
If I experience mood swings does that mean I have bipolar?
No, everyone has good and not so good days and experiences mood swings. The Bipolar UK mood scale is from 0 to 10 and those not affected by bipolar will experience mood swings between 4 and 6 on the mood scale.
If you have bipolar, your mood swings go above stable levels anywhere between a 6 and 10. With bipolar when you experience depression it falls below 4 to as low as suicidal depression of 0.
Hypomania (6 to 8 on the mood scale).
Someone experiencing hypomania can seem very self confident and euphoric but may react with sudden anger, impatience or irritability for the slightest reason.
They may become easily distracted, more talkative or challenging.
They may become more reckless than usual, which might mean errors of judgement, sometimes involving spending too much money or taking on more than they can cope with.
Mania (8 to 10 on the mood scale)
Someone experiencing mania may not recognise it is happening.
Incoherent, rapid or disjointed thinking or being easily distracted.
Other symptoms may include verbal aggression, paranoia and hallucinations affecting vision or perception.
Grandiose delusions or ideas can occur where the sense of identity and self have been distorted by the illness.
Sometimes the term psychosis (losing touch with reality) is used to describe these symptoms.
Depression (4 to 0 on the mood scale)
Most people with bipolar will experience severe depression at some time. Usually this will follow a period of mania or hypomania. For some people depression is more likely to occur during the winter months.
Common symptoms experienced during depression include: feelings of emptiness or worthlessness (as opposed to sadness), loss of energy and motivation for everyday activities, pessimism and negativity. Thoughts of death and suicide are also common symptoms.
Is there a medical test for bipolar?
No. Your GP or psychiatrist will usually complete an assessment focusing on your mood swings.
They will ask questions about your family history and background, your sleeping pattern, your diet and your behaviour. . They may also take notes about when you first experienced symptoms. All this information is relevant to help make an informed diagnosis.