Bipolar Disorder Causes, Symptoms & Signs

Erlanger Behavioral Health Hospital offers high-quality services and support for adults and senior adults who are struggling with bipolar disorder. Located in Chattanooga, TN, Erlanger is a leading provider of treatment for bipolar disorder.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Education is an essential tool in the effort to heal from bipolar disorder. The more you understand about the signs, symptoms, and effects of bipolar disorder, the better prepared you will be to get help for yourself or a loved one. Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness whose symptoms include dramatic shifts in energy and mood. Bipolar disorder, which was once referred to as manic depression, is characterized by two extremes: manic or hypomanic episodes, and depressive episodes.

During manic episodes, people who have bipolar disorder will experience symptoms such as an increase in energy levels, improved self-confidence, and elevated mood. They may be more talkative and more active than usual, and will have a dramatically decreased need for sleep. Symptoms of manic episodes will be severe enough to cause noticeable impairment in a person’s social or occupational functioning, possibly to the point of requiring hospitalization.

To meet the clinical criteria for a manic episode, symptoms must be present for at least a week.

When similar symptoms occur for at least four consecutive days but are not severe enough to impair functioning or require hospitalization, this experience is known as a hypomanic episode.

During the depressive episodes that are associated with bipolar disorder, people will struggle with symptoms such as feelings of sadness, loneliness, or emptiness; lowered energy levels or persistent fatigue; inability to experience pleasure; difficulty focusing or concentrating; excessive need for sleep; and recurring thoughts of death. These symptoms will be distressing enough to impair functioning.

To meet the clinical criteria for a depressive episode, symptoms must be present during a two-week period.

The three most common types of bipolar disorder are bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. These forms of bipolar disorder are differentiated by which types of manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes a person experiences.


Statistics about bipolar disorder

The National Institute of Mental Health has reported the following statistics about bipolar disorder in the United States:

  • About 4.4% of American adults will experience bipolar disorder in their lifetime.
  • Past-year occurrence of bipolar disorder among adults is 2.8% among women and 2.9% among men.
  • About 82.9% of adults who have bipolar disorder experience symptoms that meet the criteria for serious impairment.
  • Among adolescents, the lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder is higher among girls (3.3%) than among boys (2.6%).

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

A person’s risk for developing bipolar disorder can be influenced by several factors. The following can increase your likelihood for suffering from bipolar disorder:

  • Having a family history of bipolar disorder
  • Having a family history of major depressive disorder
  • Experiencing periods of overwhelming stress
  • Living in a high-income nation
  • Being separated, divorced, or widowed

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder can cause a person to experience a variety of distressing symptoms during depressive, manic, or hypomanic episodes. Depending upon the nature and severity of a person’s struggles with bipolar disorder, they may exhibit the following signs:

Symptoms of depressive episodes:

  • Lethargy, or extreme lack of energy
  • Heightened need for sleep
  • Problems with concentration, focus, and memory
  • Pervasive feelings of sadness
  • Persistent sense of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Lowered self-esteem or sense of self-worth
  • Dramatic increase or decrease in appetite
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Suicidal behaviors

Symptoms of manic or hypomanic episodes:

  • Dramatic increase in energy level
  • Lack of need for sleep
  • Being jumpy, jittery, or restless
  • Experiencing racing thoughts
  • Boost in self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Rapid speech patterns
  • Heightened engagement in activities
  • Impulsive, reckless, or otherwise risky behaviors


Effects of bipolar disorder

Untreated bipolar disorder can have a profound negative impact on the quality and substance of a person’s life. If you develop bipolar disorder but fail to seek appropriate treatment, you may put yourself at increased risk for a wide range of distressing outcomes, such as the following:

  • Discord within family relationships
  • Strained or ruined relationships with friends or colleagues
  • Substandard performance in school or at work
  • Academic setbacks, including failure and expulsion
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Physical injuries
  • Onset or worsening of other mental health disorders
  • Failure to comply with medical instructions
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

It is important to understand that the outcomes listed above are not unavoidable. When you enter treatment for bipolar disorder at a reputable center, you can significantly limit your risk for future damage. While you are in treatment, you can also begin to heal from any past harm. When you get professional care for bipolar disorder, your life can get much better.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among people who have bipolar disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Association, people who struggle with bipolar disorder may also have an elevated risk for the following conditions:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Substance use disorders, especially alcohol use disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IOD)
Marks of Quality Care
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval