Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder which affects 2-3% of the population at any given time. It affects genders equally. Bipolar is characterised by extreme mood swings ranging from depression to mania, often with prolonged periods of stability in between.
Onset is often in adolescence or early adulthood, although diagnosis later in life is also common. Bipolar illness is often split into two diagnoses: bipolar 1 and bipolar 2. With bipolar 1, the person will experience the full range of symptoms of mania and depression. With bipolar 2, the more extreme symptoms of mania are absent although the less severe symptoms known as hypomania will occur, as will the full range of depressive symptoms.
Moods are best viewed as a spectrum with severe depression at one end and extreme elation at the other. Within that spectrum, most people will find themselves within the middle range at any given time.
There is no brain scan or any other test that can diagnose bipolar. Diagnosis is made by an examination of your history by a psychiatrist.
If you are in doubt, talk to a specialist. You can ask for a second opinion. But don’t be too worried if your specialist is not sure of the diagnosis. Sometimes it is better to wait and see what happens over time than to embark on treatment for an illness you don’t have.
The causes of bipolar are not known for certain. Research suggests that bipolar disorder has a strong genetic component and that many hundreds of genes may be involved. Close relatives of someone with bipolar illness, such as children or siblings, are more likely to develop bipolar.