Bipolar Disorder Home > Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

A healthcare provider cannot make a diagnosis of bipolar disorder based on standard exams or tests, like x-rays. However, a person's symptoms, the course of the illness, and family history can help a qualified healthcare provider make an accurate diagnosis and recommend treatment options.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder: An Overview

Like other mental illnesses, bipolar disorder cannot yet be diagnosed by standard tests, like blood work, x-rays, or a brain scan. Therefore, a bipolar disorder diagnosis is made on the basis of:
  • Symptoms
  • 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, 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.)

Bipolar Disorder: A Patient's Perspective

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?"
  • Hypomania: "At first when I'm high, it's tremendous … ideas are fast … like shooting stars you follow until brighter ones appear…. All shyness disappears, the right words and gestures are suddenly there … uninteresting people, things, become intensely interesting. Sensuality is pervasive, the desire to seduce and be seduced is irresistible. Your marrow is infused with unbelievable feelings of ease, power, well-being, omnipotence, euphoria … you can do anything … but somewhere this changes."
  • Mania: "The fast ideas become too fast and there are far too many … overwhelming confusion replaces clarity … you stop keeping up with it-- memory goes. Infectious humor ceases to amuse. Your friends become frightened …. everything is now against the grain … you are irritable, angry, frightened, uncontrollable, and trapped."
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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