Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Bipolar Disorder

If you or your loved one are struggling with bipolar disorder, Vermilion is here to help. Learning about bipolar disorder can help you or your loved one manage its symptoms.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness that causes those suffering from it to experience unpredictable cycles of extreme emotional highs and extreme emotional lows. These dramatic mood swings can cause significant disruption in an individual’s life, causing problems at work, home, or in multiple social settings. Additionally, not only do the symptoms of bipolar disorder have negative effects on the person with the illness, but on the lives of close friends and family as well. Bipolar disorder presents itself in different forms and in different stages of severity. With proper diagnosing and treatment, those suffering with bipolar disorder can recover.

Bipolar disorder is classified into one of three specific types. These types include:

Bipolar I:  The most severe form of bipolar disorder and is characterized by extremely intense periods of both depression and mania. The presentation will vary depending on the person, with some experiencing depression more than mania or vice versa, typically cycling between the two. In some cases, people will experience a mixed state which occurs when a person experiences symptoms of both mania and depression simultaneously.

Bipolar II: Less severe than bipolar I, individuals do not experience full-blown manic episodes. Instead individuals with bipolar II experience episodes of hypomania, a less severe form of mania, and severe depression.

Cyclothymic disorder: Is a milder form of bipolar disorder that consists of cyclical mood swings, with the symptoms less severe than full blown mania or depression.


Bipolar disorder statistics

An estimated 5.7 million people over the age of 18 in the United States have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is equivalent to approximately 2.6% of the population. The symptoms of bipolar disorder are believed to most commonly present in people around the age of 25, but anyone of any age can suffer from it.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

The causes of bipolar disorder are not very well understood, but many researchers believe that it tends to appear hereditary. Additionally, the combination of other factors such as the environment, may also have a role in its development. Some of these factors include:

Genetic: Bipolar disorder is believed to have a strong genetic link because it is an illness that is known to run in families. It has been said that people who have a biological parent who has bipolar disorder are 15-25% more likely to develop the illness than those who do not have a parent suffering from the disorder. However, bipolar disorder has been known to develop in people who do not have any such family history.

Physical: Chemical imbalances in the brain are also believed to play a role in whether or not a person will experience the onset of bipolar disorder. These chemical imbalances can occur as a result of certain neurotransmitters, which are the chemicals responsible for sending messages throughout the various parts of the brain, not functioning properly. It has also been said that having extreme fluctuations within one’s hormones can add to the likelihood that a person will develop bipolar disorder.

Environmental: There are some professionals in the field who believe that environmental causes can have a direct link to the onset of bipolar disorder. However, it is more commonly believed that certain environmental factors, such as altered health habits or the abuse of alcohol and drugs, can add to the severity of the onset of the disorder or to a person developing the disorder earlier in life, rather than believing it to be the sole cause.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Major life changes or stressors
  • Experiencing severe trauma
  • Drug or alcohol abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

The signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder can be severe and debilitating and can look very different from person to person. Additionally, symptoms will vary in their pattern, severity, and frequency. While some individuals are more prone to either mania or depression, others alternate equally between the two types of episodes. Some have rather frequent mood disruptions, while others experience only a few over their lifetime. Some common signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

Depressive episode:

  • Misses multiple days of work
  • Participates in self-harming behaviors
  • Spends a great deal of time in bed
  • Isolates oneself from family and friends
  • Makes suicide attempts

Manic episode:

  • Participates in high-risk behaviors
  • Hyper sexuality
  • Makes grandiose statements or behaves in a grandiose manner
  • Speaks rapidly
  • Acts impulsively
  • Acts out aggressively

Physical symptoms:

Depressive episode:

  •  Noticeable weight gain or weight loss
  • Increased need for sleep
  • – crapes, cuts, bruises, or other marks indicative of self-harming behaviors

Manic episode:

  • Decreased need for sleep, sometimes going days without sleeping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Extreme fluctuations in body temperature

Cognitive symptoms:

Depressive episode:

  • Inability to think clearly
  •  Inability to make decisions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having visual or auditory hallucinations

Manic episode:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Poor concentration
  • Flight of ideas
  • Having visual or auditory hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

Depressive episode:

  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Excessive feelings of worry and anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation

Manic episode:

  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Excessive irritability or agitation
  • Feeling as though one is invincible and that nothing can harm him or her
  • Prolonged periods of emotional excitability


Effects of bipolar disorder

While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, with proper treatment and medication, its symptoms can be successfully managed. When left untreated, however, the effects of bipolar disorder can range from minor disturbances to major disruptions. Some of the effects of untreated bipolar disorder can include:

  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Damaged relationships
  • Poor job or school performance
  • Unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Criminal involvement or legal problems
  • Repeated self-harming behaviors
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

It is common for people who have bipolar disorder to struggle from the symptoms of another mental health disorder as well. Sometimes the symptoms of the co-occurring disorders will overlap with the symptoms of bipolar disorder, or will conflict with one another, causing further distress and further disruption in the lives of those individuals. Some of the common co-occurring disorder may include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance abuse and addiction