Bipolar Disorder: Diagnosis and Treatment

Table of Contents

Bipolar Disorder is a mental health disorder that is characterized by a range of emotions and mood changes. The emotional states of individuals who suffer from the illness shift between two extremes: mania (emotional high) and depression (emotional low). These shifts cause alterations that affect the individual’s judgment, sleep, activity, energy levels, and thinking—the four variations of the disease manifest through different symptoms. The Disorder can be treated in many ways. However, the most effective treatment methods include medications and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Bipolar Disorder causes unusual shifts in mood, activity, and energy levels that manifest through periods of intense emotions and unusual behaviors, which can be treated with psychotherapy and medications.


Bipolar Disorder manifests in four basic types, namely Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, Cyclothymic Disorder (cyclothymia), and other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders (Strakowski, 2014). Bipolar I Disorder is characterized by manic episodes that necessitate emergency professional assistance (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). These episodes can last for one or two weeks. Bipolar II Disorder is characterized by both hypomanic and depressive periods. Cyclothymic Disorder is defined by long-lasting periods of both hypomanic and depressive episodes (Strakowski, 2014). In adults, the symptoms can last for two years while they can last for a year in adolescents and children. All these types involve changes in activity levels, energy, and mood.

Predisposing Factors

The cause of bipolar Disorder has not yet been discovered. However, research studies have attributed it to several factors that increase the risk of developing the illness. These factors include brain structure and functioning, genetics, and family history (Strakowski, 2014). Studies have shown that the brains of people with bipolar disorder are different from the brains of people without the Disorder. The physical changes observed in certain individuals help scientists to pinpoint the cause of the Disorder and determine the best treatment method (Mondimore, 2014). People who have a first-degree relative with the disorder are likely to develop the disorder due to the genes’ transmission. Research has shown that individuals with certain genes are at a higher risk of developing the Disorder (Strakowski, 2014). Studies are underway to identify the genes that cause Bipolar Disorder.


The symptoms of bipolar Disorder are experienced as periods of intense emotion, either as a high or as a low. These periods are called episodes, and they can be either manic or depressive (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). During a manic episode, individuals experience a range of symptoms that include irritability, insomnia, agitation, and elation (National Institute of Mental Health) (Mondimore, 2014). During a depressive episode, symptoms include worrying, feelings of emptiness, low activity levels, suicidal thoughts, and loss of appetite (Strakowski, 2014). Sometimes individuals experience symptoms of both manic and depressive episodes. In such instances, they are highly energized but feel hopeless, anxious, and sad (Mondimore, 2014). Timely diagnosis and treatment of the Disorder are important in order to prevent the progression of hypomania into mania or depression.


The main goal of treatment is to help people gain better control of their moods and related symptoms. The most effective treatment plan involves a combination of medications and psychotherapy (McCormick, Murray, & McNew, 2015). Electroconvulsive therapy is used in serious cases that do not respond to medication and psychotherapy. Recommended medications include antidepressants, atypical antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016). Psychotherapy can be done in any of the following forms: interpersonal therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychoeducation, or family-focused therapy. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is used to treat bipolar symptoms when taking medications is risky (McCormick et al., 2015). For example, pregnant women cannot take medications because it could affect the development of the fetuses. ECT has side effects, and therefore, people with the Disorder should evaluate the risks and benefits of the method before agreeing to treatment.


Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental disorder that prevents people from carrying out their day-to-day tasks effectively. It has distinct symptoms that depend on the type of episode that a person is experiencing. During a manic episode, elation, increase activity levels, irritability, and agitation are observed. During a depressive episode, symptoms including loss of appetite, feeling of worry and emptiness, and decreased energy are observed. The most effective management strategy involves the administration of medications and therapy. The primary cause of Bipolar Disorder is unknown. However, the majority of researchers agree that genetics, family history, and brain structure increase the risk of an individual developing the illness.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

McCormick, U., Murray, B., & McNew, B. (2015). Diagnosis and treatment of patients with bipolar Disorder: A review for advanced practice nurses. Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners 27(9), 530-542.

Mondimore, F. M. (2014).Bipolar Disorder: A guide for patients and families (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Bipolar Disorder. Web.

Strakowski, S. M. (2014). Bipolar Disorder. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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