Bipolar Disorder Symptoms: How to Recognize Manic and Depressive Episodes

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  • According to studies, bipolar disorder patients are 10 to 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population
  • Misdiagnosis may prolong the duration and/or worsen the severity of your mood swings, which consequently leads to unneeded suffering. To prevent this, you have to be aware of the warning signs of manic and depressive episodes

There are many different symptoms of bipolar disorder, and their occurrence varies depending on a mood episode. These symptoms may not be easy to recognize, since they’re often disregarded as insignificant mood swings or misdiagnosed as some other type of mental disorder.

In fact, around 20 percent of people who complain of depression actually have bipolar disorder,1 while a number of children with this condition are often diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) instead.2 Misdiagnosis may prolong the duration and/or worsen the severity of your mood swings, which consequently leads to unneeded suffering. To prevent this, you have to be aware of the warning signs of manic and depressive episodes.

Identifying the Hallmark Symptoms of a Manic Episode

Manic episodes are characterized by heightened energy levels, activities, thought processes and emotions. During periods of mania, you may experience three or more of the following symptoms for a prolonged period of time:3,4,5

Euphoria

Extreme irritability

Inflated self-esteem

Impaired judgment

Uncharacteristic talkativeness

Failure to concentrate

Decreased need for sleep

Delusions

Hallucinations

Without proper treatment, the symptoms mentioned above may become hard to control, ultimately affecting your ability to perform regular tasks or make simple decisions. Impulsiveness and impaired judgment may also cause you to engage in reckless acts that may even put your life at risk.

It’s important to note, though, that not every patient experiences severe manic episodes right away. There are cases wherein a bipolar person only experiences a period of hypomania first, which is less severe than mania.6

During hypomania episodes, you may still experience higher energy levels, increased creativity and extreme happiness. However, the severity of the symptoms is not as extreme as that of mania and you may still be able to control your actions. Even though hypomania is less severe, it’s still important for you to manage this condition since it’s usually followed by an emotional crash.7

Watch Out for the Telltale Signs of a Depressive Episode

A depressive episode is characterized by feelings of extreme sadness. During this period, you may experience five or more of the following symptoms:8,9

Low energy levels

Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

Loss of appetite

Fatigue or weakness

Irritability

Withdrawal from relatives and friends

Poor concentration

Excessive feelings of inappropriate guilt

Sleeping problems

If left untreated, a depressive episode may lead to suicidal thoughts. According to studies, bipolar disorder patients are 10 to 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Unfortunately, around 10 to 15 percent of these people eventually end up taking their own lives.10

The Characteristics of Bipolar Disorder May Differ According to Age and Gender

By now, you’re probably aware that bipolar disorder does not discriminate — it can affect anyone at any age, regardless of gender or race. However, studies have shown that there are differences in the symptoms experienced by different age groups and genders.

For instance, women with bipolar disorder are more likely to have depressive episodes, and a possible culprit behind this may be the fluctuation of female hormones. Several studies have also linked the frequency and severity of bipolar disorder with menopause and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Plus, pregnant women and women who have just given birth are found to be seven times more likely to experience mood episodes and recurring symptoms.11

The warning signs of bipolar disorder in adults and children are also different. For example, children may feel more irritable during manic episodes, whereas adults usually experience extreme optimism. A potty-trained child may suddenly experience bed-wetting issues as well. Moreover, psychotic symptoms are more likely to occur in children than adults.12

Understanding the Patterns of Depressive and Manic Episodes

The patterns by which manic and depressive episodes occur aren’t always the same, which makes bipolar disorder a very unpredictable mental health problem. Here are some of the unusual patterns that you may encounter:13

Rapid cycling — This pattern is characterized by continuous manic and/or depressive episodes without periods of normal moods in between. Statistics show that women are more likely to experience rapid cycling.14

Mixed episodes — During a mixed episode, you may experience depression along with a few symptoms of mania, and vice versa. This condition may put you at a higher risk of having suicidal thoughts.15

It’s important to consult your physician if you’ve been experiencing the aforementioned patterns, since they’re usually more difficult to manage than pure mania or depression.

Don’t Hesitate to Ask Your Family and Friends for Help and Support

Identifying and managing the signs of bipolar disorder can be difficult to do on your own. You may not always be able to identify unusual mood swings, so having a strong support system of family and friends can be a big help when it comes to spotting symptoms and tracking behavioral changes. This, together with the help of a mental health professional, may help you to live your life to the fullest.

MORE ABOUT BIPOLAR DISORDER

Bipolar Disorder: An Introduction

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder in Children

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

Bipolar Disorder Causes

Bipolar Disorder Types

Bipolar Disorder Test

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

Bipolar Disorder Prevention

Living with Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder Diet

Bipolar Disorder FAQ

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