Bipolar disorder

Alternative Names

Manic depression; Bipolar affective disorder

Definition of Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder involves periods of elevated or irritable mood (mania), alternating with periods of . The “mood swings” between mania and depression can be very abrupt.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally. It usually appears between ages 15 – 25. The exact cause is unknown, but it occurs more often in relatives of people with bipolar disorder.


The manic phase may last from days to months and can include the following symptoms:

Signs and tests

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder involves consideration of many factors. The health care provider may do some or all of the following:


Spells of depression or mania return in most patients, in spite of treatment. The major goals of treatment are to:

Expectations (prognosis)

Mood-stabilizing medication can help control the symptoms of bipolar disorder. However, patients often need help and support to take medicine properly and to ensure that any episodes of mania and depression are treated as early as possible.


Michelle Benger Merrill, MD, Instructor in Clinical Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 3/21/2010

Bipolar disorder

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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