What is Bipolar Disorder?

what is bipolar healthyplace

Information About Bipolar Disorder

You may have heard bipolar disorder referred to as manic depression. It is not a made up disease or some sort of personality problem. It is a recognized mental illness and a treatable condition. The key characteristics of bipolar disorder are extreme changes in mood, thought, energy and behavior.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, becoming educated and getting in-depth, trusted information about this illness provides the best chance at bipolar treatment success. When you are done with this section, you will have the full answer to the question: "What is Bipolar Disorder?"

Facts About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder affects 5.6 million adult Americans (2.6%), according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The average age of bipolar onset is 21; however, information on bipolar disorder now suggests many people first start experiencing the illness in their teens, often as depression. First manifestations of bipolar disorder are also common between the ages of 20 – 24.1

An equal number of men and women develop bipolar disorder, but a rapid cycling variant of bipolar disorder is more common in women, as is bipolar type 2. Bipolar disorder is found among all ages, races, ethnic groups and social classes. Research information on bipolar disorder shows this mental illness tends to run in families and appears to have a genetic link. Like depression and other serious illnesses, bipolar disorder can negatively impact spouses, partners, family members, friends and coworkers of the person with bipolar disorder.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness known as a mood disorder or an affective disorder. (Read: Bipolar Personality Disorder Doesn’t Exist) It is also known as manic depression because a person's mood can alternate between the "poles" - mania (highs) and depression (lows).

There is also a second type of bipolar disorder (bipolar disorder 2) where the high is known as hypomania, and is not as severe. This change in mood, or "mood swing," can last for hours, days, weeks or months. Every time you experience symptoms at one pole for at least 1 week, it is called an episode.

What is Bipolar Rapid Cycling?

The specific length of each mood swing indicates whether the bipolar disorder is "rapid cycling." Rapid cycling bipolar disorder is when a person experiences four or more depression/mania/hypomania episodes in one year.

While general bipolar disorder information shows mood changes can occur gradually, with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, a full cycle can be completed within days (some individuals even complete a cycle in hours). Information on bipolar disorder indicates a pattern of rapid-cycling is seen in approximately 15%2 of patients with bipolar disorder and is more common in type 2 bipolar disorder. Those with rapid cycling bipolar disorder are more difficult to treat due to the frequent changes in mood. Unfortunately, people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder may also be at higher risk of suicide.

About Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

It can be very difficult to accurately diagnose bipolar disorder, particularly bipolar disorder type 2. Since people with type 2 bipolar spend the vast majority of their time in the depressed state, these individuals are often mistakenly diagnosed with major depressive disorder. One important thing to understand about bipolar disorder - correct diagnosis is critical - as standard antidepressant treatment for major depressive disorder may make bipolar disorder worse.

Specific Information About Bipolar Disorder

Although it is somewhat common, this disease can also be very complex. For more specific information, visit the links below.

article references

next: Causes of Bipolar Disorder: What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
~ all bipolar disorder articles

Last Updated: July 11, 2017

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD