Bipolar Causes, Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

Often times the signs of bipolar disorder can be difficult to identify. One of the most important steps in the recovery journey is understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of bipolar disorder.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, often referred to as manic-depression, is a disorder that can cause major shifts in your energy, the way you feel, act, and think. One day, you may be feeling on top of the world, ready to fight for world peace, while the next, you’re suicidally depressed. While bipolar disorder is treatable with proper medication and treatment it can be hard to recognize the symptoms of the disorder and seek appropriate care. As bipolar disorder often gets worse the longer it goes untreated, prompt attention to symptoms and recognizing that there is a problem is the first step in recovery.

Most people develop bipolar disorder during their late teen years or early adult years, although some may experience their first symptoms during childhood. Over half the cases of bipolar disorder before age 25.

It’s not easy to detect when bipolar disorder starts. Some of the symptoms may seem to be separate events, not part of a bigger picture. Many people go for years undiagnosed and untreated because the symptom picture seems so fractured and disconnected. Bipolar disorder is a chronic yet treatable disease, but requires long-term management throughout your life.

Bipolar disorder can cause serious problems in your life. You may decide to end your marriage, take up flying lessons, or give racecar driving a try during a manic phase without any thought for the consequence of your actions. During a depressive phase, you may find that you’re so low that you can’t even get out of bed to go to work. Bipolar disorder affects every aspect of your life from your relationships with other people, your ability to function at work, and your ability to lead a productive life. Fortunately, bipolar disorder is a treatable illness that can be managed so that you can lead a happy and fruitful life.

Bipolar disorder is actually comprised of two disorders and a related disorder, each having unique symptoms and presentations.

Bipolar I disorder is considered to be “classic” bipolar disorder and involves periods of mania which can involve an inflated sense of self-worth, reckless behavior, marked decrease in the need for sleep, and racing thoughts. These manic episodes are present for at least one week, most of the day every day for that week. Following a manic episode is a hypomanic episode, a similarly energetic period, but not quite as intense as a full manic episode. These episodes are interspersed with major depressive episodes that can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Bipolar II disorder is a less extreme form of bipolar disorder that is characterized by recurring mood episodes that involve at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. The symptoms of these respective episodes must be present most of the day nearly every day and symbolize a major deviation from normal behaviors.

Cyclothymic disorder is closely related to bipolar disorder. A diagnosis of cyclothymia is given to adults who have experienced at least two years of both depressive and hypomanic periods without meeting the criteria for Bipolar I or Bipolar II disorder.

Many people spend years living with bipolar disorder, trying to cope with the ups and downs of this disorder on their own. Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition that can worsen over time and requires long-term treatment and management.


Bipolar disorder statistics

It’s been estimated that in the United States approximately 0.6% of the population suffers from Bipolar I disorder with both men and women experiencing the disorder in about the same proportion. About 0.8% of the US population lives with Bipolar II disorder. Cyclothymic disorder tends to occur between 0.4 – 1% of the general population.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

As is the case with many illnesses a single cause for bipolar disorder has yet to be properly identified. Instead, the development of bipolar disorder is likely the result of a number of factors working together. The most common theories include:

Genetic: Research does suggest that the likelihood of developing bipolar disorder is more common among those who have a first degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) with the disorder.

Biological: It has been proposed that an imbalance of hormones may cause or trigger bipolar disorder. Other theories suggest that an inadequate amount of neurotransmitters or structural abnormalities in the brain may lead to the development of bipolar disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

Individuals suffering from bipolar disorder may display a marked variety of symptoms which can vary among the same type or other types of bipolar disorder. Symptoms do change as an individual cycles through mania, hypomania and depressive episodes and may include:

Mania Symptoms (last at least one week)

  • Racing thoughts
  • Intense euphoria
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Less need for sleep
  • Less need for food
  • Increased amounts of talking
  • Aggression
  • Rapid pattern of speech
  • Risky behaviors
  • Belief that one is capable of accomplishing far more than possible
  • Distractible
  • Irritability

Hypomanic Symptoms (milder form of mania that lasts at least four days in a row)

  • Irritation
  • Highly distractible
  • Increased sense of self-worth
  • Decreased need for sleeping
  • Decreased need for food
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggression
  • Milder euphoric feelings
  • Talking more and faster than usual

Major Depressive Symptoms

  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Feeling sad and hopeless
  • Distinct lack of energy
  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Inability to feel joy in once-pleasurable activities
  • Feeling worthless
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Slowed thinking and speaking


Effects of bipolar disorder

All forms of bipolar disorder if left untreated can lead to significant problems and impairments in one’s life. Some of the more common effects of untreated bipolar disorder include:

  • Social isolation
  • Interpersonal relationship problems
  • Problems keeping a job
  • Health consequences of risky behaviors
  • Dropping out of school
  • Mounting legal problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Depression
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Bipolar disorder, like many other mental illnesses often occurs with other disorders. The most common disorders that occur with bipolar disorder are:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • ADHD
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep-related disorders
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder