Bipolar disorder (sometimes called " manic depression") is a brain disorder that causes extreme changes in mood and behavior. Bipolar disorder can run in families. Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder, are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Treatments for these conditions work by changing the chemistry of the brain.
Bipolar disorder is typically a lifelong illness with episodes (especially if untreated) that are highly variable and unique to each individual. Treatment is complex and often involves more than one medication over time. Talk therapy, complementary medicine, and lifestyle modifications can also help, but psychiatric medications are the mainstay of treatment.
People with bipolar disorder can feel much happier or much sadder than normal. If you have bipolar disorder, you might feel very happy for many days and then feel very sad.
When your mood is very happy, you can also:
Other times, your mood might be very sad for most of the day, every day.
When your mood is very sad, you can also:
People with bipolar disorder might have trouble at work or school. They might not get along well with their family and friends.
No. There is no test. But your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have it by talking with you and your family. He or she will ask about your mood and what you have been feeling and doing. Your doctor or nurse might also do an exam and order blood tests to look for other problems.
Bipolar disorder is treated with medicine. Medicines sometimes take a while to start working. Plus, it sometimes takes a few tries to find the right medicine or combination of medicines.
You and your doctor will work together to find the medicine that works best for you.
All of the medicines for bipolar disorder affect the brain. They can:
Medicines sometimes cause side effects.
You might also need to stay in the hospital for a short time. When a bipolar disorder mood episode starts, you might be at risk of hurting yourself or others. You might hear voices that other people do not hear. You might believe things that are not true. But if you are at the hospital, the doctors can treat these symptoms and keep you safe.
Some people whose bipolar disorder makes them feel very sad might need "shock treatment" to get better. Doctors call this treatment ECT. During ECT, doctors pass an electric current through a person's brain in a safe way.
In addition to medicine, psychotherapy can help. There are different types of psychotherapy. In general, they all focus on helping you learn new ways of thinking and behaving, so you can better cope with your bipolar disorder.
If you have bipolar disorder and you're unhappy with the medication that you're currently on—perhaps you feel like it's not working well enough or maybe you're experiencing a side effect that you simply can't stand—remember that it's never a good idea to stop taking a medication cold turkey or change the dose of a medication without first talking to your doctor.
If you need to switch medications, your physician or psychiatrist will advise you on how to do so safely.
Yes. After your symptoms have gone away, you will probably:
If you want to get pregnant, you will need to talk with your doctor. Some medicines for bipolar disorder are OK to take if you are pregnant. Others are not. You might need to slowly reduce or change your medicine.
Many people with bipolar disorder are able to live normal lives, but they might:
Dating with bipolar disorder can be tricky. What are some tips for the loved one of someone with bipolar disorder? Leading psychiatrist Dr. Jacobson shares his advice.
He sheds light on behaviors to look out for and how to handle them, how bipolar disorder stigma affects relationships with a bipolar person, and the importance of forgiveness in relationships.
This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your healthcare provider. This is only a brief summary of general information. It does NOT include all information about conditions, illnesses, injuries, tests, procedures, treatments, therapies, discharge instructions or lifestyle choices that may apply to you. You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.
You must talk with your health care provider for complete information about your health and treatment options. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to accept your health care provider’s advice, instructions or recommendations. Only your health care provider has the knowledge and training to provide advice that is right for you.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This content is intended for informational purposes only. It should not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you have a medical emergency, call 911 or your doctor immediately.