Diagnostic Tests and Procedures for Bipolar Disorder

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  • There is no single test that can identify bipolar disorder yet. However, a mental health professional may help you diagnose this problem by thoroughly evaluating your condition
  • Make sure that you seek medical help as soon as you notice abnormal changes in your mood, since early diagnosis improves the prognosis for bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a difficult illness to diagnose even for mental health professionals.1 In fact, it may take more than 10 years before some sufferers get an accurate diagnosis, and they may have had to consult at least three doctors before getting their diagnosis. This is because bipolar disorder shares many symptoms with other mental health problems, and it also comes in several forms.2

There is no single test that can identify bipolar disorder yet. However, a mental health professional may help you diagnose this problem by thoroughly evaluating your condition. Make sure that you seek medical help as soon as you notice abnormal changes in your mood, since early diagnosis improves the prognosis for bipolar disorder.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder: Psychiatric Assessments, Mood Charts and More

A combination of diagnostic methods is often used to verify if a patient is indeed suffering from bipolar disorder or not. Here are some of the tests and procedures that you may undergo:

Psychiatric assessments — A psychiatrist or psychologist will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms. An assessment quiz called the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ) may be one tool used for this. Questions included on the MDQ ask such things as how often manic-type symptoms occur, how long they last and how they disrupt your everyday life.3

Your doctor may also look into your family's medical history, as genetics play a major role in the development of bipolar disorder. If you have a close relative with this mental illness, then it may be easier to diagnose your condition. You should also inform your doctor of the medications that you're taking and if you have any history of drug abuse, since these can be a contributing factor in the occurrence of bipolar disorder.

Mood charting — Mood charting involves a record of your mood changes. This helps your doctor track the frequency and duration of your manic and depressive episodes, which are important when it comes to classifying the type of bipolar disorder that you have. Aside from mood changes, you should also keep track of your sleeping patterns, energy levels, thoughts and speech.4

Physical exam — A thorough physical examination helps reveal the overall condition of your health, allowing your doctor to identify other medical problems that could be triggering your symptoms.5

Laboratory test — While a lab test can't accurately identify bipolar disorder, this procedure can help rule out other conditions that may be causing your mood swings. One of the lab tests that your doctor may recommend is a thyroid function test, since the symptoms of some thyroid problems are similar to that of bipolar disorder. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam and computed tomography (CT) scan may also be needed to rule out neurological diseases as the possible underlying cause of your behavioral changes.6

The diagnostic process for bipolar disorder in adults, teens and children are fairly the same. After this step, your doctor will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to determine which type of bipolar disorder you fall into.7

A Few Things That You Can Do to Get the Right Diagnosis

When consulting a doctor regarding your condition, there are a few things that you can do to help yourself get the right diagnosis, including:8

Bring a family member or a friend — They may be able to help explain unusual behaviors or mood changes in detail, especially if there are symptoms that you might have missed during a mood episode.

Take note of your stressors — Take note of what causes stress in your life, so your doctor can determine if it's associated with your mood swings. Your doctor can also help you avoid your stressors in order to decrease your chances of experiencing manic or depressive episodes.

Record your diet and lifestyle habits — Knowing your diet and lifestyle habits may help your doctor diagnose your condition more easily, since these factors may influence the development of bipolar disorder.

Bring your medications — Be sure to bring all your medications and dietary supplements to your doctor's appointment to determine if they influence your mood swings.

During an appointment with a mental health professional, you should also make a list of questions you may have about bipolar disorder to gain a better understanding of this illness.

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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