Ruling Out Other Conditions
If you experience extreme shifts in your mood that disrupt your daily routine, you should see your doctor. There are no specific blood tests or brain scans to diagnose bipolar disorder. Even so, your doctor may perform a physical exam and order lab tests, including a thyroid function test and urine analyses. These tests can help determine if other conditions or factors could be causing your symptoms.
A thyroid function test is a blood test that measures how well your thyroid gland functions. The thyroid produces and secretes hormones that help regulate many bodily functions. If your body doesnt receive enough of the thyroid hormone, known as hypothyroidism, your brain may not function properly. As a result, you may have problems with depressive symptoms or develop a mood disorder.
Sometimes, certain thyroid issues cause symptoms that are similar to those of bipolar disorder. Symptoms may also be a side effect of medications. After other possible causes are ruled out, your doctor will likely refer you to a mental health specialist.
Icipating In Clinical Research
Clinical research is medical research that involves people like you. People volunteer to participate in carefully conducted investigations that ultimately uncover better ways to treat, prevent, diagnose, and understand human disease. Clinical research includes trials that test new treatments and therapies as well as long-term natural history studies, which provide valuable information about how disease and health progress.
Please Note: Decisions about participating in a clinical trial and determining which ones are best suited for you are best made in collaboration with your licensed health professional.
What Is Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder can be a life-long mental health problem that mainly affects your mood. It affects how you feel, and your mood can change massively. You can experience episodes of:
- mania, and
You may feel well between these times. When your mood changes, you might see changes in your energy levels or how you act.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be severe. They can affect areas of your life, such as work, school and relationships.
You usually develop bipolar disorder before you are 20. It can develop in later life, but it rarely develops after the age of 40.
You could have symptoms of bipolar disorder for some time before a doctor diagnoses you. A doctor might say you have something else such as depression before you get a bipolar disorder diagnosis. This is because diagnosing mental illnesses can be sometimes difficult for doctors. They usually cant do things like blood tests and scans to help them.
Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression.
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Is Bipolar Under Or Over
Many people believe that bipolar II is under-diagnosed and that more people have the condition than we realize. On the other end of the spectrum, some researchers believe that bipolar disorder is over-diagnosed because of the pressures put on doctors not to miss symptoms. Aggressive marketing of mood-stabilizing medications by pharmaceutical companies could also be to blame, according to a 20-year research review that was published in 2016.
Misdiagnosis can be dangerous, not simply because of unmanaged symptoms of mania or depression. If you are misdiagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants when you actually have bipolar disorder, for example, your medication may trigger symptoms of mania. What’s more, someone who believes that they have treatment-resistant depression may never receive appropriate treatment for what is actually bipolar disorder.
Living With Bipolar Disorder
Teens normally face ups and downs with school, family, work, and friends. Dealing with bipolar disorder at the same time is a very difficult challenge. One 16-year-old reader who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 14 wrote to us about the experience:
I had mood swings that were the worst anyone could have ever seen. My poor parents thought I hated them, but really I was sick and didnt even realize it. But now I am on medications for my disorder and I live a pretty normal life. My family and friends support me, and they, along with my therapist, have helped me get to the point where I am today. I just want other teens to know that even though it is hard at times to be bipolar, things will get better.
If youve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, taking your medications as prescribed, reporting any changes in how you feel or function, and participating in therapy will be key to living a successful life. In addition to treatment, making a few lifestyle changes, such as reducing stress, eating well, and getting enough sleep and exercise can help someone who is living with the condition. And many teens find it helps to join a support network such as a local support group for people with bipolar disorder.
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How Early Can Bipolar Disorder Be Diagnosed
Bipolar disorder is one of the most complex and often misdiagnosed mental disorders in the world. People often struggle for years or even decades before getting an accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Because the symptoms of the disorder shift between different phases, physicians may miss certain aspects of the persons illness and wrongfully give them a diagnosis of depression, ADHD or other disorders often confused with bipolar disorder.
It is important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible but it can be difficult with the many changing symptoms that a bipolar person experiences. Fortunately it is possible to diagnose bipolar disorder even in childhood although it is more likely to be diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. Children can actually experience many symptoms of early onset bipolar disorder but it may take time for their family to realize that there is a problem.
Identifying and understanding bipolar disorder in young children can be complicated because kids may manifest the symptoms differently than adults do. For example, during manic episodes children may be more likely to be irritable and prone to destructive outbursts rather than experiencing the kind of euphoria that adults do. During a depressive phase they might have more physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches or tiredness.
How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed And How Long Does It Take
For bipolar disorder to be diagnosed, your symptoms must meet the diagnostic criteria set out by the DSM-5 , published by the American Psychiatric Association. In addition to comparing your symptoms to this criteria, your doctor may also perform other tests .
A bipolar disorder diagnosis consists of a thorough evaluation, usually taking place over several appointments. No one test can detect bipolar disorder, but an assessment of your symptoms may include:
- Physical exam: Your doctor may perform a physical exam and run blood tests to rule out any medical issues that could be causing or contributing to your symptoms.
- Mood charting: You may be asked to record your moods over a period of weeks or months so that your doctor can chart your symptoms of mania/hypomania and depression.
- Psychiatric assessment: You will most likely be referred to a psychiatrist who will assess your behavioral patterns, ask questions about your and your familys history of mental illness and examine any other contributing factors.
If a child or teenager is suspected of having bipolar disorder, the diagnostic process may be different. In this case, a referral to a child psychiatrist and specialist treatment is usually recommended.
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How Does A Diagnosis Get Made
To make a diagnosis your doctor will ask you about:
- how many symptoms you experience
- how long your manic or depressive episodes last
- how many episodes you’ve had, and how frequently they occur
- the impact your symptoms have on your life
- your family history
- ask you to keep a diary of your moods to help them assess you
- check for any physical health problems, such as thyroid problems which can cause mania-like symptoms
You can only be diagnosed with bipolar disorder by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist not by your GP.
However, if you’re experiencing bipolar moods and symptoms, discussing it with your GP can be a good first step. They can refer you to a psychiatrist, who will be able to assess you.
“Once properly diagnosed, I knew the cause. I understood that I was someone with an illness. I was not a failure, not a bad person.”
Disability Benefits Program Options
You will most likely be applying for one of two main disability programs offered by the Social Security Administration: Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income .
SSDI is for disabled workers and who have paid Social Security taxes from their paychecks. You will asked for a job history when you apply, which will show that you have worked for long enough to qualify for SSDI. This makes SSDI more suited for working adults. http://www.disability-benefits-help.org/ssdi/qualify-for-ssdi
SSI is another benefit program similar to SSDI, but is intended specifically for elderly and disabled individuals. Instead of a job history, you will be asked to demonstrate that you meet the SSAs strict financial limits. This makes children good candidates for SSI, since they will not have had much experience working. In the case of applications for children, the Social Security Administration will ask a parent to submit part of their finances for evaluation as well.
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Can Brain Scans Or Imaging Tests Help With The Bipolar Diagnosis
While doctors donât rely on brain scans or imaging tests for making a bipolar diagnosis, some high-tech neuroimaging tests may help doctors make specific neurologic diagnoses that can account for psychiatric symptoms. An MRI or CT scan is therefore sometimes ordered in patients who have had a sudden change in thinking, mood, or behavior to assure that a neurological disease is not the underlying cause.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, studies are underway to examine whether electroencephalograms and magnetic resonance imaging studies of the brain can reveal differences between bipolar disorder and related behavioral syndromes. But bipolar disorder remains a clinical diagnosis, and no imaging study or other lab test has yet been established to confirm its diagnosis or guide its treatment.
Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder
During a depressive episode, a person may experience irritability, persistent sadness, or frequent crying. He or she may have thoughts of death or suicide and lose interest in activities that were previously enjoyable. Other signs include a low energy level, fatigue, poor concentration, and a change in eating or sleeping habits.
During a manic episode, a person may seem unusually happy or excited. He or she may also talk too much and too fast or appear distracted or overly confident and ambitious.
Mania may also involve psychosis, or being out of touch with reality. This symptom can be characterized by hallucinations, which involve hearing or seeing things that arent there, or delusions, which involve believing things that arent supported by evidence.
Other symptoms of mania include experiencing increased energy despite a lack of sleep, driving recklessly, being sexually promiscuous, and engaging in risky behavior, such as abusing drugs or alcohol.
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What Are The Symptoms
The symptoms depend on your mood swings, or highs and lows. During a manic high, you may feel:
- Very happy, energetic, or on edge.
- Like you need very little sleep.
- Overly self-confident.
Some people spend a lot of money or get involved in dangerous activities when they are manic. After a manic episode, you may return to normal. Or your mood may swing in the opposite direction to feelings of sadness, depression, and hopelessness. During a depressive episode, or low, you may have:
- Trouble thinking and making decisions.
- Memory problems.
- Less interest in things you have enjoyed in the past.
- Thoughts about killing yourself.
The mood swings of bipolar disorder can be mild or extreme. They may come on slowly over several days or weeks or suddenly over a few minutes or hours. These mood swings may last for a few hours or for several months.
Beyond Treatment: Things You Can Do
Regular Exercise: Regular aerobic exercise, such as jogging, brisk walking, swimming, or bicycling, helps with depression and anxiety, promotes better sleep, and is healthy for your heart and brain. There is also some evidence that anaerobic exercise such as weightlifting, yoga, and Pilates can be helpful. Check with your health care provider before you start a new exercise regimen.
Keeping a Life Chart: Even with proper treatment, mood changes can occur. Treatment is more effective when a patient and health care provider work together and talk openly about concerns and choices. Keeping a life chart that records daily mood symptoms, treatments, sleep patterns, and life events can help patients and health care providers track and treat bipolar disorder over time. Patients can easily share data collected via smartphone apps including self-reports, self- ratings, and activity data with their health care providers and therapists.
Testing For Other Disorders
Doctors need to take time with the testing process, as other mental health conditions may cause similar symptoms. Monitoring and testing helps ensure that the person receives the correct treatment for their condition.
Doctors will often perform a physical examination when the person first visits them. This may not help with a bipolar diagnosis, but it may help rule out physical issues that can cause similar symptoms.
For instance, issues with the thyroid gland may cause similar symptoms to those of manic or depressive episodes.
Some symptoms that may seem similar to symptoms of bipolar disorder may also appear in a few different mental health conditions.
For instance, symptoms such as impulsive behavior and mood swings may appear in conditions such as:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- borderline personality disorder
- impulse control disorders
Also, people with bipolar disorder may be more likely to experience other conditions, such as anxiety, ADHD, and substance abuse.
During the testing process, doctors may also ask about or check for other risk factors for bipolar disorder.
Genes: Some genes may play a role in bipolar disorder.
Properly diagnosing bipolar disorder is crucial to get the person medical treatment and help them live a balanced life.
Anyone who feels that they may have bipolar disorder should talk to a doctor or mental health professional first and foremost.
Talk To Family About Their Mental Health
Because mental health conditions tend to run in families, its helpful to know your relatives mental health experiences.
In fact, an estimated 8090% of people with bipolar disorder have a relative with depression or bipolar disorder.
You might ask family:
- Have you experienced extreme mood shifts in your life?
- Have you felt down a lot? Or not like yourself?
- Have other relatives struggled with their mental health?
Is There A Difference Between Bipolar Disorder And Bipolar Depression
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by episodes of mania and depression. Depression is unipolar, there is no episode of mania. The term bipolar depression could be used to describe the depressive episodes of someone who experiences both highs and lows of bipolar disorder but is not a clinical diagnosis itself.
What To Expect During The Diagnostic Exam
A diagnostic exam for bipolar disorder generally consists of the following:
Psychological evaluation The doctor or bipolar disorder specialist will conduct a complete psychiatric history. You will answer questions about your symptoms, the history of the problem, any treatment youve previously received, and your family history of mood disorders.
Medical history and physical There are no lab tests for identifying bipolar disorder, but your doctor should conduct a medical history and physical exam in order to rule out illnesses or medications that might be causing your symptoms. Screening for thyroid disorders is particularly important, as thyroid problems can cause mood swings that mimic bipolar disorder.
In addition to taking your psychiatric and medical history, your doctor may also talk to family members and friends about your moods and behaviors. Often, those close to you are able to give a more accurate and objective picture of your symptoms.
Are your symptoms caused by something else?
Medical conditions and medications that can mimic the symptoms of bipolar disorder include:
- Thyroid disorders
- Adrenal disorders
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When To Suspect Bipolar Disorder
People, even psychiatrists, cannot diagnose themselves with bipolar disorder. However, in order to be concerned enough about bipolar disorder to seek a diagnosis from someone else, there are a number of symptoms to look for. Some of these symptoms may be signs of other disorders, but some of them are unique or at least almost unique to bipolar disorder.
Note that drug and alcohol use can simulate the effects of bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. In fact, it is very difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder in someone with an addiction, because it is almost impossible to separate out which symptoms might be the result of a mental illness and which might be the result of the substances. If you or someone else has addiction problems, it may be best to work through addiction services, rather than through the medical system as I will suggest below.
The following symptoms may be signs of bipolar disorder, and should raise a yellow flag, so to speak:
The following symptoms are more likely to be signs of bipolar disorder, as they are more associated with that condition than with more common conditions:
Please dont use the above to diagnose yourself. If you observe any serious psychiatric symptoms at all, such as delusions, suicidal thoughts or attempts, or hallucinations, dont worry about what you have but simply go to the local emergency room and seek treatment.