Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that affects 5.7 million Americans (or 2.7% of the population). It occurs in two forms, known as bipolar I and bipolar II. This guide will explain the similarities and differences between these forms of bipolar disorder and the symptoms they cause. Once you learn to spot bipolar symptoms in yourself and others, you can begin the process of seeking the various treatment options available. Fortunately, this condition is highly treatable.
What is Bipolar I Disorder?
Bipolar I is characterized by manic episodes in which the affected person feels a sense of euphoric capability. You may feel exhilarated and as if you have the power to accomplish all your dreams and goals. This is a component of another common bipolar I symptom called grandiosity. Manic episodes are followed by a period of deep melancholy and despair in which the person feels hopeless and powerless. Friends and family of bipolar individuals may dismiss these drastic shifts as mood swings, but manic and depressive episodes are far more serious symptoms. If you notice extreme mood shifts that seem to occur randomly in yourself or in a loved one, they could be the result of bipolar disorder. Psychotic episodes are another one of the more common bipolar symptoms associated with bipolar I.
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What is Bipolar II Disorder?
Bipolar II comes with its own set of unique bipolar symptoms. The most common bipolar symptoms found in individuals with this form of the disorder include hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes. Hypomanic episodes are significantly different from manic episodes, primarily in terms of severity. During a hypomanic episode, the person with bipolar disorder may need significantly less sleep than normal. If you notice that you suddenly need less sleep and feel more cheerful than your normal self, you may be going through a hypomanic episode. Additionally, bipolar II individuals face other bipolar symptoms, such as severe depressive episodes. Unlike people with bipolar I, people with bipolar II do not experience bipolar symptoms that make them delusional or psychotic.
Assessing Bipolar Symptoms
If you think that the symptoms you’re experiencing may be due to bipolar disorder, you can take a bipolar symptoms test. You can find a bipolar symptoms test online from various websites (try a bipolar disorder test from CNN’s Bipolar Disorder HealthCoach), but it is important to remember that no online test is a replacement for a medical assessment by a licensed professional. While many symptoms are unmistakable, there are others that are common to other mood, personality, and anxiety disorders. Depressive episodes, for instance, are one of the more common bipolar symptoms, but they can also be found in individuals with various other conditions. Before assuming that your symptoms are related to bipolar disorder, you should receive a professional assessment to determine whether you have the more characteristic symptoms, such as hypomanic or manic episodes.
Mania is one of the most troubling bipolar symptoms, both for the affected individual and for loved ones. If you are experiencing a manic episode, you may feel wonderful at the time without knowing that you are actually doing damage to your body. Mania is one of the more dangerous symptoms because it can lead people to do things they would not do normally. For instance, a person who is experiencing a manic episode may rack up thousands of dollars’ worth of credit card debt in a short amount of time without fully considering the consequences, only to regret it after the manic high. True manic episodes are vastly different not only from your depressed moods but from your normal moods as well.
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Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic symptoms in some ways and vastly different in others. Hypomanic episodes are generally much less severe than manic episodes, which is one of the reasons why people with bipolar disorder often go undiagnosed. If you are experiencing a hypomanic episode, you may be more impulsive than usual but usually not to the extremes of a manic episode. In general, people will probably notice that you are much more cheerful than your usual self, and you may feel perfectly energetic and ready for the day after only a few hours of sleep. Because hypomania can seem positive at first, it is one of the most commonly overlooked bipolar symptoms.
Delusions are one of the psychotic symptoms that people with bipolar I experience, but they are not present in individuals with bipolar II. Delusions are any significant disconnect between one’s perception of reality and objective reality. For instance, if you have episodes in which you believe you are someone else, or you feel an extreme and exhilarating sense of importance and power, you may be suffering from delusions related to bipolar I. Delusions are perhaps the most dangerous of the common bipolar symptoms, but they are also one of the most treatable. With the right medication and therapy, even the most severe bipolar symptoms can be treated.
Getting Help for Bipolar Symptoms
Bipolar disorder symptoms are generally unpleasant and can cause significant damage to your professional and personal lives. The good news is that most of these symptoms can be eliminated or at least managed through the right combination of medicine and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapists have great success with the reduction of symptoms in their patients because they teach basic coping skills that help you regain control of your cognitive processes. Medication can help correct the neurochemical imbalances that are believed to cause most symptoms for bipolar disorder, and cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you manage your moods more effectively once your symptoms are under control. If you believe that you are, or a loved one is, suffering from any of these symptoms, the sooner you seek treatment the sooner you can regain control of your life.