Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

depressed man

Story at-a-glance -

  • Bipolar disorder is classified according to the frequency, duration, pattern and severity of manic and depressive episodes
  • Learning the differences in these conditions is important, as they require different treatment approaches
  • If you’re not sure which condition you have, it’s best to track your mood changes and consult a mental health professional

Bipolar affective disorder is a complex illness. Every sufferer may experience different symptoms in varying severity. Some may get longer episodes of major depression, while others may experience mania for prolonged periods of time.1 In order for these varying conditions to be easily classified and diagnosed, bipolar disorder was divided into four major forms.

These forms may be used as a basis in determining the appropriate treatment method for a specific condition, so it’s important to be aware of their differences.2

Distinguishing the Different Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is classified according to the frequency, duration, pattern and severity of manic and depressive episodes. Here are its four major types:3,4,5

Bipolar I — Bipolar I disorder involves at least one manic episode, which should last for at least seven days. Sufferers may also experience bouts of major depression for two weeks or more. The symptoms of mania in this condition tend to be noticeable and disturbing, so manic episodes are easy to identify.

Bipolar II — Bipolar II disorder is defined by hypomania and major depressive episodes that last for at least two weeks. People with this form of disorder do not experience full manic episodes, which is why their bouts of hypomania may be mistaken for ordinary happiness.

Bipolar II is often misdiagnosed as unipolar depression, since its depressive episodes outnumber the periods of hypomania. Patients are also more likely to ask the help of a professional during their depressed state, making it harder to diagnose manic symptoms.6

Cyclothymia — Also known as bipolar III, cyclothymia is characterized by frequent but brief episodes of hypomania, which are separated by short periods of depression within a span of two years for adults or one year for children and adolescents. The symptoms of cyclothymia are not as severe and long-lasting as that of a full depressive or hypomanic episode, which is why it's considered a mild form of bipolar disorder.7

Not otherwise specified (NOS) — This form of bipolar disorder refers to the conditions that do not match any of the categories mentioned above. For example, an adult that experiences mild depression and mania for only a year is categorized as NOS instead of cyclothymic since the duration of symptoms did not meet the two-year period.

Bipolar disorder also has two subtypes: bipolar IV and bipolar V. Bipolar IV is characterized by mania or hypomania that occurs after taking antidepressant medicines. Meanwhile, bipolar V refers to a condition wherein a patient only experiences major depression despite having the genetic predisposition for bipolar disorder. Further studies are still needed for these subtypes to be considered major categories.8

Schizoaffective Disorder Is Different From Bipolar Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health problem that’s often confused with bipolar disorder. It’s characterized by mood swings and schizophrenia, which includes hallucinations and delusions. This mental disorder has two distinct types:9

Bipolar type — People with this form of schizoaffective disorder experiences schizophrenia along with bouts of mania and major depression.

Depressive type — This form refers to a condition wherein a patient only experiences symptoms of depression along with schizophrenia.

Despite the similarity in symptoms, the bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder is not the same as bipolar disorder. The primary difference between these two mental health conditions lies in the occurrence of their psychotic symptoms. In people with bipolar disorder, the psychotic symptoms occur together with mania or depression. On the other hand, people with schizoaffective disorder may experience psychotic symptoms even when they’re not manic or depressed.10

Learning the difference between these two conditions is important, as they require different treatment approaches. If you’re not sure which condition you have, it’s best to track your mood changes and consult a mental health professional.

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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