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Bipolar Disorder Tests

Bipolar Disorder Tests

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder. It was formerly referred to as manic-depressive disorder. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), more than 10 million Americans live with this condition. The word “bipolar” refers to the extreme highs and lows in mood. These swings can affect your ability to perform everyday tasks.

A person living with bipolar disorder typically has periods of mania. These can include extreme highs in mood, being extremely restless or irritable, and grand, unrealistic thoughts (psychosis). These highs can be followed by periods of depression, which can involve:

  •  a hopeless mood
  • trouble concentrating
  • sleep problems,
  • suicidal thoughts or actions

The severity and duration of the highs and lows can vary. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis in order to receive appropriate treatment to control the disorder. Talk to your doctor to determine what type of testing is best for you.

How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

According to the NAMI, bipolar disorder can be diagnosed at any age, but more than half are first diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 25. Other conditions have to be ruled out first since there are no definitive diagnostic tests for bipolar disorder. Tests that are usually done first include the following.

  • physical exam: This is a measurement of your weight, height, blood pressure, and an assessment of your heart, lungs, abdomen, and nervous system. This is to see if there is evidence of another condition responsible for your symptoms.
  • blood and urine tests: These tests can check for various other illnesses that may present like bipolar disorder, such as thyroid problems, substance abuse, or other hormonal imbalances.
  • psychological evaluation: Your doctor will ask you about your moods, thoughts, and behavior patterns. They may have you complete some mental health self-assessment questionnaires. After your doctor gets your approval to do so,  family members may be questioned about your symptoms.  

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is used by doctors to diagnose bipolar disorder according to specific guidelines. Bipolar disorder is subdivided into several specific subtypes.

Which Bipolar Disorder Is Present?

There are several types of bipolar disorder, and the DSM lists numerous criteria for each one.

  • Bipolar 1 disorder involves having at least one manic or mixed episode. This usually means your mood was extremely high, or mixed with agitation or irritability. A depressive episode may not have occurred, but typically depression of two weeks or longer has been present as well.
  • Bipolar 2 disorder means you have had at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. A hypomanic episode is a less severe version of mania.
  • Cyclothymic disorder means you have had multiple cycles of hypomania and depressions, but have never had a full-blown mania or severe depressive episode. You have to have had symptoms for at least two years according to the criteria for this diagnosis.

Diagnosing bipolar disorder can be challenging.  It usually includes a mix of input, including:

  • clinical interviews
  • mood charting
  • medical history
  • family history

Content licensed from:

Written by: Jaime Herndon and Erica Cirino
Published on: Aug 29, 2014
Medically reviewed on: Oct 17, 2016: Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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