Bipolar FAQ


People have many frequently asked questions about Bipolar Disorder. These are some of the more commonly asked questions — and their answers — about manic depression (also known as bipolar disorder):

Q: Is there a test to tell me if I have, or may inherit, bipolar disorder?

A: Currently, no test can tell a person if he is at risk of developing bipolar disorder. It is unlikely that a single gene will be discovered that is responsible for the illness in all people with bipolar disorder.


Q: Can someone have a medical condition that appears to be bipolar disorder but actually is something else?

A: Certain conditions mimic mood disorders, including bipolar disorder. Common ones are:

•thyroid conditions

•neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, brain tumors, stroke or epilepsy

•infections of the brain from conditions such as HIV infection, syphilis, sleep apnea and lyme disease

•deficiencies of certain vitamins, such as vitamin B12

•corticosteroid use, especially in high doses

•medicine used to prevent diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS

  • Other mood disorders, i.e., Borderline Personality Disorder

(This is NOT to say you have these conditions, but to educate you on other mimicking conditions)

Telling your doctor about your medical history and the medications that you are currently taking can help her determine the cause of your condition.


Q: What if someone I know has bipolar disorder?

A: Family members may want to express their concern by describing the specific behaviors to that person in a nonjudgmental fashion. The person with the disorder is less able to dismiss the observation if there is a consensus among friends or family members that a distinctive pattern has emerged.

At the work site, violations of safety codes or negligence may need to be reported to supervisors so that the person can receive a medical evaluation before injury or disability occurs.

what are mood disorders

Q: If I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder, will I be on medication for the rest of my life?

A: Not necessarily. However, patients are encouraged to stay on medication indefinitely if an episode was very frightening or associated with great risk to their health, finances or family relationships.


Q: Is there anything I can do to help my disorder?

A: Yes. First, learn all you can about your illness by reading books, going to lectures and talking to your doctor. Get support from others who also have the illness. The Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association is a good place to look for a support group in your area. In these groups, you can hear how others face the challenges of life and manage their mood and treatment medications. For helpful hints for managing your illness, see Coping With Bipolar Disorder. Your local library should carry books on mental health, bipolar disorder, etc. You can check out for free.


Q: How can lifestyle affect bipolar disorder?

A: Lack of a consistent routine and disrupted sleep can trigger a mood episode. Choosing work and leisure activities that allow proper sleep and rest is vital to healthy emotional functioning. Families can support good mental hygiene by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.


Q: What is meant by Bipolar I & Bipolar II?

A: Bipolar I disorder defines patients with full manic (rather than hypomanic) episodes: Recurring episodes of mania and depression, in which the high periods impair functioning and may also include psychosis.

Bipolar II disorder defines those who never experience severe mania; instead the high periods (called hypomania’s) are milder, do not impair functioning, and more often involve extensive time spent with depression.

A subtype of both forms of bipolar disorder is rapid cycling, which defines patients with bipolar I or II disorder who experience four or more bipolar episodes within 12 months. Some researchers believe that “mini” episodes can occur as frequently as within one week or even within one day, although the meaning and classification of such frequent mood shifts is controversial and not well-understood. A pattern of rapid cycling can come and go at any point in the course of bipolar I or II disorder, and appears to be more common among women.


Q: What causes Bipolar Disorder?

A: There is no single explanation doctors can point to as the cause of bipolar disorder. One current theory suggests an underlying defect in brain circuitry involving areas that control mood, thinking, and behavior. Stress may also play a role and, in women, hormonal fluctuations may worsen symptoms. In January 2006, two Scottish researchers isolated a gene that doubles the risk of developing bipolar disorder, advancing the theory that there is a genetic part of this disease. However, it is thought that no single gene confers risk for bipolar disorder, and no specific series of genes has been identified that increases the risk for developing bipolar disorder.


Q: Are women effected by Bipolar Disorder any differently than men?

A: Although the rate is equal among the genders, women are more likely than men to develop bipolar II disorder. While manic episodes are milder than in men, they still alternate with depression. Women are also at higher risk for rapid cycling of symptoms, which some believe may be linked to fluctuations in reproductive hormones, or the activity of the thyroid gland. Women are more frequently misdiagnosed as having depression only, and then prescribed antidepressant medication. This may induce manias or increase the frequency of multiple relapses.

The hormonal changes of perimenopause and menopause can sometimes worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder, although hormone therapy is not a proven treatment for mood symptoms of bipolar disorder. Additionally, changes in medication regimens may become necessary during this time to offset the effects of changing hormones.



While I hope this Q&A was helpful, it does NOT replace the consultation of your physician or therapist.

If you have a question or comment, please do so below.

For a complete FAQ listing of Bipolar Disorder by type, please visit our FAQ Center.


Source: PsychCentral & WebMD




Living with type 1 bipolar disorder, PTSD (due to childhood trauma), Rapid Cycling, and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Writing about my life experiences.

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