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What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Also known as manic depressive illness, bipolar disorder is characterized by severe and disabling highs (mania) and lows (depression). Affecting 2.2 million Americans, this illness typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life, with 80% of patients experiencing multiple manic episodes and 15% ending their lives in suicide. However, effective medical treatments are available, and new research is constantly expanding the range of possible treatment options. With proper medication, most people with bipolar disorders are able to lead normal, productive lives.

Bipolar Disorder is distinguished from Major Depressive Disorder by the presence of manic or hypomanic episodes. It is distinguished from Schizoaffective Disorder by the absence of psychotic symtoms (such as delusions, halucinations) during periods of stable mood.

Bipolar Disorder is really a spectrum of disorders. Bipolar I disorder is characterized by a history of at least one manic episode, and (usually) depressive episodes. Bipolar II disorder is characterized by hypomanic episodes alternating with depressive episodes. Cyclothymia is characterized by highs which fulfil some but not all criteria for hypomania and lows which fulfil some but not all criteria for depression.

  • Take the Mood Disorders Questionnaire

  • If your answers indicate the possibility of bipolar disorder and you would like to participate in research, please contact the Stanford Bipolar Clinic at (650) 498-9111 or Click Here to look at a list of current clinical trials.

  • Take the Prime MD for Unipolar Disorder Questionnaire

  • If your answers indicate the possibility of unipolar depressive disorder and you would like to participate in research, please contact the Stanford Depression Research Clinic at (650) 723-8330.

    See below for the American Psychiatric Association DSM-IV definitions of:

     

    Manic Episode

    A. A distinct period of abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive or irritable mood, lasting for at least one week (or any duration if hospitalization is necessary).

    B. During the period of mood disturbance, three (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted (four if the mood is only irritable) and have been present to a significant degree:

    1. inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
    2. decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
    3. more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
    4. flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
    5. distractibility (i.e., attention is easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
    6. increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
    7. excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)

    C. The symptoms do not meet criteria for a Mixed Episode

    D. The mood disturbance is sufficiently severe to cause marked impairement in occupational functioning or in usual social activities or relationships with others, or to necessitate hospitalization to prevent harm to self or others, or there are psychotic features.

    E. The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication, or other treatment) or a general medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).

    Note: Manic-like episodes that are clearly caused by somatic antidepressant treatment (e.g., medication, electroconvulsive therapy, light therapy) should not count toward a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder.

     

    Hypomanic Episode

    A. A distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting throughout at least 4 days, that is clearly different from the usual nondepressed mood.

    B. During the period of mood disturbance, three (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted (four if the mood is only irritable) and have been present to a significant degree:

    1. inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
    2. decreased need for sleep (e.g., feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
    3. more talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
    4. flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
    5. distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
    6. increase in goal-directed activity (either socially, at work or school, sexually) or psychomotor agitation
    7. excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., the person engages in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments)

    C. The episode is associated with an unequivocal change in functioning that is uncharacteristic of the person when not symptomatic

    D. The disturbance in mood and the change in functioning are observable by others.

    E. The episode is not severe enough to cause marked impairment in social or occupational functioning, or to necessitate hospitalization, and there are no psychotic features.

    F. The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication, or other treatment) or a general medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).

    Note: Hypomanic-like episodes that are clearly caused by somatic antidepressant treatment (e.g., medication, electroconvulsive therapy, light therapy) should not count toward a diagnosis of Bipolar II Disorder.

     

    Major Depressive Episode

    A. Five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning; at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

    Note: Do not include symptoms that are clearly due to a general medical condition, or mood-incongruent delusions or hallucinations.

    depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities consistently for at least a 2 week period. This mood must represent a change from the person's normal mood; social, occupational, educational or other important functioning must also be negatively impaired by the change in mood. A major depressive episode is also characterized by the presence of a majority of these symptoms:

    1. depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful). Note: In children and adolescents, this can be irritable mood.
    2. markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day (as indicated by either subjective account or observations made by others)
    3. significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day. Note: in children, consider failure to make expected weight gains.
    4. insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
    5. psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down)
    6. fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
    7. feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt (which may be delusional) nearly every day (not merely self-reproach or guilt about being sick)
    8. diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day (either by subjective account or as observed by others)
    9. recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide

    B. The symptoms do not meet criteria for a Mixed Episode

    C. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

    D. The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication, or other treatment) or a general medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).

    E. The symptoms are not better accounted for by Bereavement, i.e., after the loss of a loved one, the symptoms persist for longer than 2 months or are characterized by marked functional impairment, morbid preoccupation with worthlessness, suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms, or psychomotor retardation.

     

    Mixed Episode

    A. The criteria are met for a Manic episode and for a Major Depressive Episode (except for the duration) nearly every day during at least a 1-week period.

    B. The mood disturbance is sufficiently severe to cause marked impairement in occupational functioning or in usual social activities or relationships with others, or to necessitate hospitalization to prevent harm to self or others, or there are psychotic features.

    C. The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a sub- stance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication, or other treatment) or a general medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).

    Note: Mixed-like episodes that are clearly caused by somatic antidepressant treatment (e.g., medication, electroconvulsive therapy, light therapy) should not count toward a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder.

     

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