There is no test for bipolar disorder or an exam to diagnose the disease. However, even without a standard test, a qualified healthcare provider can accurately diagnose bipolar disorder based on a person's symptoms, the course of the illness, and family history.
Like other mental illnesses, bipolar disorder cannot yet be diagnosed by a "bipolar test" or even by standard tests, like blood work, x-rays, or a brain scan. Therefore, a bipolar disorder diagnosis is made on the basis of:
- The course of the illness
- Family history (when available).
A depressive episode is diagnosed if five or more of symptoms of depression last most of the day, nearly every day, for a period of two weeks or longer.
A manic episode of bipolar disorder is diagnosed if an elevated mood occurs along with three or more of the other symptoms on the mania symptoms list most of the day, nearly every day, for one week or longer. If the mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be present.
(Click Bipolar Disorder Symptoms for more information.)
Descriptions offered by people with bipolar disorder give valuable insights into the various mood states associated with the illness:
Depression: "I doubt completely my ability to do anything well. It seems as though my mind has slowed down and burned out to the point of being virtually useless…. [I am] haunt[ed] … with the total, the desperate hopelessness of it all…. Others say, 'It's only temporary, it will pass, you will get over it,' but of course they haven't any idea of how I feel, although they are certain they do. If I can't feel, move, think, or care, then what on earth is the point?"