Understanding the Difference Between Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar disorder affects nearly three percent of the adult American population. While it can begin in childhood, the median age for diagnosis is about 25, and it can even emerge in people in their 50s. While women and men are diagnosed with bipolar disorder in roughly equal numbers, women are more likely to have fast-cycling forms of the condition.

Bipolar is not a singular disorder; there are different groups of conditions classified by the type and frequency of symptoms. Understanding how those symptoms are classified may help you recognize where you or a loved one resides on the bipolar spectrum.

Bipolar symptoms

The term manic-depressive was used in association with bipolar disorder for years, but it fell out of favor, perhaps in part due to its oversimplification. Both mania and depression are, of course, bipolar symptoms. However, the two can combine in radically different ways in different people, though patterns exist within these combinations.

Bipolar definitions now also recognize hypomania as distinct from mania a less extreme “up” cycle that doesn’t include psychotic elements that sometimes affect true manic episodes.

Bipolar disorder types

Though bipolar disorder is often marked with unpredictable change, over time there may be recognizable patterns. These are used to classify patients and may help predict future behavior.

Bipolar I disorder

A patient experiences one or more manic episodes in association with a period of hypomania or a major depressive episode. The mania can sometimes extend to psychosis, where the patient loses touch with reality.

Bipolar II disorder

A patient never achieves a true state of mania, but instead alternates between depressive episodes and hypomania, with at least one instance of each.

Cyclothymic disorder

A patient cycles between hypomania and depressive symptoms over an extended period of two years or more. There are no major periods of either depression or mania.

It’s important to know that other disorders and conditions such as stroke, Cushing’s disease, and multiple sclerosis can each create bipolar-type symptoms but are not labeled as bipolar disorders. Bipolar-like symptoms can also be induced by an outside event such as alcohol or drug use.

The distinction between mania and hypomania

While mania and hypomania are both abnormal periods of high energy, mania extends to the point where behavior starts to interfere with daily living, whether due to delusion, irrational decision making, or high-risk behavior.

Hypomania is less extreme, and episodes are less likely to interfere with a patient’s life. The hypomanic phase is still recognizable as distinct from the patient’s normal behavior even though it doesn’t reach the extremes of mania.

It’s important to recognize that the different types of bipolar disorder aren’t “stronger” or “weaker” versions of each other. Each type has its own risks and complications. Careful diagnosis and an active treatment plan are essential to managing these lifelong conditions.

Dr. Sidhu at Revîv Functional Psychiatry & TMS Wellness Center is a specialist in bipolar disorders, one of the most common conditions treated at her practice. If you or a loved one are affected by this disorder, call 714-699-2194 or click to arrange a consultation today.

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