A cluster of mood disorders marked by periods of extreme lows (depression) and extreme highs (mania).

Overview and Facts

Bipolar Disorder—Extreme and Debilitating Mood Swings

Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness that can cause your mood to fluctuate from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression). People sometimes refer to bipolar disorder as manic-depression or manic-depressive illness. Bipolar disorder can be a disabling illness and can also present significant challenges to the families, friends, and colleagues of people who have it.

What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

Symptoms can include a wide range of moderate to severe mood swings that tend to form a pattern. Part of this pattern may include normal periods when your mood is stable. During a manic mood, you may experience:

  • a sense of euphoria
  • poor judgment
  • the belief you can do or accomplish anything (possibly accompanied by reckless behaviors such as overspending, driving too fast, etc.)
  • insomnia (sleeplessness)
  • irritability
  • increased sex drive
  • substance abuse
  • racing thoughts
  • trouble concentrating.

During a depressive mood, you may experience:

  • sadness
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • hopelessness
  • changes in appetite
  • loss of interest in daily activities and/or activities that are normally pleasurable
  • chronic pain (often with no obvious origin or cause).
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

The causes of bipolar disorder are not known. However, several factors may work alone or in combination to cause the disease:

  • Genetics—some research indicates bipolar disorder is passed down among family members.
  • Biochemical Imbalances—changes in naturally occurring brain chemicals and/or hormones may play a role in bipolar disorder.
  • Environmental Factors—these may include major life situations (trauma, for example) that lead to stress, poor self-esteem, etc.
  • Use of alcohol and other drugs may be a risk factor for developing bipolar disorder.
How is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

Lifelong treatment is often essential for bipolar disorder. Treatment usually involves a combination of medications to stabilize your mood along with individual and/or group counseling (psychotherapy, talk therapy, etc.) with a trained mental health provider.

People with bipolar disorder often need to work with a physician to find the right medication or combination of medicines to get well. You will need to continue your treatment even when you feel well.

The treatment of bipolar disorder can sometimes require hospitalization, especially if you have thoughts about or have attempted suicide, or become detached from reality (psychotic).