Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition defined by periods (or episodes) of extreme mood disturbances that affect mood, thoughts, and behavior. There are two main types of bipolar disorders. Bipolar I disorder involves episodes of severe mania and often depression. Bipolar II disorder involves a less severe form of mania called hypomania. There is also a third type known as cyclothymic disorder.

Estimates suggest that around 4.4% of U.S. adults will have bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. Genetics are thought to play a significant role, although brain abnormalities and environmental factors also contribute as causes of bipolar disorder. Mood stabilizers are usually the first-line treatment, but electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used to address severe symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes bipolar disorder?

    The exact causes of bipolar disorder are not entirely understood. Research has shown that genetics play a significant role. Other causes include changes in the brain as well as environmental factors including childhood trauma or stress caused by major life changes. Understanding the causes may help scientists develop ways to prevent or treat the condition.

  • Is bipolar disorder genetic?

    Research suggests there is a strong genetic component in bipolar disorder. Twin studies have found that when one identical twin has the condition, the likelihood that their twin sibling will also have it is around 40%. While there is a genetic vulnerability, inherited factors interact with environmental influences that can play a role in triggering the disorder’s onset.

  • How is bipolar disorder treated?

    Bipolar disorder is typically treated with medications and sometimes electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), therapy, and psychoeducation. Common medications include mood stabilizers or anticonvulsants, as well as second or third generation antipsychotics. Antidepressants are typically avoided if possible due to risks including mania and rapid cycling.

  • Is bipolar disorder considered a disability?

    Your condition may be considered a disability that is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or qualifies you for disability payments. If your disability substantially limits your work, you may be able to request reasonable accommodations from your employer. You may qualify for disability benefits if your condition makes it impossible for you to maintain employment.

  • How do you know if you're bipolar?

    Only a doctor or qualified mental health professional can diagnose you with bipolar disorder. You may want to see your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of mania, depression, or both. Symptoms of mania can include talking excessively, racing thoughts, decreased sleep, and delusions. Symptoms of depression may include fatigue, prolonged sadness, and loss of interest in activities.

Key Terms

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Page Sources
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  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC. 2013.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar disorder. Updated November 2017.

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar disorder. Updated January 2020.