Bipolar Symptoms: What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
Symptoms of bipolar disorder stem from the episodes of mania and depression (take the bipolar depression test) caused by this difficult to live with mental illness. The severity of the mood swings, and the way they disrupt normal life activities, distinguish bipolar episodes from ordinary mood changes. These disruptive bipolar symptoms can be managed, however, and effective bipolar treatments do exist.
Bipolar disorder involves the cycling of moods from an elevated mood, known as mania or hypomania, to a depressed mood. There are 4 different types of bipolar disorder:
The nature of bipolar symptoms means bipolar disorder can be difficult to recognize and, many times, it is misdiagnosed as depression. People tend to get help while they are experiencing either extreme high or low symptoms of bipolar. People with bipolar disorder type 2 spend the vast majority of their time depressed. The highs may be less memorable and not noticed. A careful screening by a doctor attempts to look for these symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Symptoms in Adults – Mania and Hypomania
The most severe highs of bipolar disorder are known as manic episodes. The symptoms of bipolar mania often put the person or those around them at physical or emotional risk. Impulsive, irrational or dangerous behavior, aggression, anger and delusions are all symptoms that can hurt the patient or others.
Less severe highs, those seen in bipolar 2, are called hypomanic episodes. The symptoms of bipolar hypomanic episodes do not tend to disrupt life to the degree of manic episodes. However either state, if left unchecked, can be dangerous.
Bipolar disorder symptoms seen in manic and hypomanic episodes include:
- Increased physical and mental activity and energy; hyperactivity
- Heightened mood, exaggerated optimism and self-confidence
- Feeling of invincibility
- Excessive irritability, aggressive behavior - particularly when grandiose plans are thwarted
- Decreased need for sleep without experiencing fatigue
- Grandiose delusions, inflated sense of self-importance - individuals may imagine they have special connections with God, celebrities, or political leaders
- Racing speech and thoughts; rapidly changing streams of though
- Impulsiveness, poor judgment, distractibility
- Reckless or risky behavior such as reckless driving, outlandish spending sprees, foolish business investments, or out-of-character sexual behavior
- In the most severe cases, delusions and hallucinations
Bipolar Symptoms – Depression
The severe lows of bipolar disorder are major depressive episodes. The symptoms of bipolar depression are the same as for unipolar (non-bipolar) depression (extensive information on unipolar depression). Bipolar disorder symptoms seen during depressive episodes include:
- Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
- Feeling helpless, hopeless and worthless; feelings of guilt
- Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
- Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
- Pessimism, indifference
- Loss of energy, persistent lethargy
- Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
- Inability to take pleasure in former interests, social withdrawal
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
If you or someone you know has thoughts of death or suicide, contact a medical professional, clergy member, loved one, friend or hospital emergency room or call 911 immediately.
Bipolar disorder cannot be self-diagnosed. Only a properly trained health professional can diagnose a mental illness. Our online bipolar tests or this bipolar screening test can help you communicate your symptoms to your health care professional. Any suspected symptoms of bipolar disorder should be discussed with a professional health care provider. You can learn more about bipolar diagnosis here.
Bipolar Symptoms in Children
Bipolar disorder symptoms are only defined in adults. The diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children may be made by a medical professional by looking for similar moods as seen in adults with bipolar.
Are Bipolar Symptoms in Women Different Than in Men?
Both men and women can have any type of bipolar disorder; however, the prevalence of bipolar in men and bipolar in women differ slightly.1
- Bipolar 1 occurs equally among genders.
- Rapid cycling is more common in women than men.
- Bipolar 2 is more common in women.
- Bipolar mixed episodes are more common in women.
Signs of bipolar mania in women may improve more quickly than in men, but bipolar symptoms in women are more likely to include depression.2
What are the Signs of Bipolar in Men?
Bipolar signs in men share most of the same signs of bipolar in women. However, certain types of jobs are linked to bipolar disorder and many of these jobs are common for men. Signs of bipolar in men are often around:
- High-pressured, executive jobs (these roles are still predominantly held by men)
- Emergency worker positions such as being a police officer
- Seasonal employment such as laborers (workers may be manic during the working season and then become depressed during the slow season)
Substance abuse issues are also more common in men with bipolar disorder.
What are the Signs of Bipolar in Women?
Hormonal changes can play a role in the signs of bipolar in women and can become a concern surrounding childbirth. As pregnancy, delivery and motherhood drastically affect the woman both physically and psychologically, signs of post-partum bipolar depression and signs of bipolar psychosis can occur.
Bipolar symptoms in women may also appear in the few days leading up to menstruation. One recent study found bipolar women taking oral contraceptives had much less cycling during the entire month than bipolar women not receiving oral contraceptives.3
Read more about: Pregnancy and Bipolar Disorder (Treatment/Management Issues)
- American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th Ed. Text Revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Guide to Depression and Manic-Depression [brochure]. Chicago, Ill: Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance; 2001.
Last Updated: 11 July 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD