Exploring Types of Bipolar Disorder

by David Rosenthal, MD

While bipolar disorder is less well-known than other mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression, it affects a significant number of people across the country and the world. About 5.7 million American adults, or 2.6% of the population, suffer from the disorder in any given year.

Beyond the more general information available about bipolar disorder, it’s important to understand the different varieties that may come into play when dealing with patients or supporting family and friends.

There’s more than one type of bipolar disorder.

While most people group “bipolar disorder” in one category, there are actually several main varieties of the condition that manifest themselves in different ways.

Each of the four basic types of bipolar disorder has similar symptoms — they all affect a patient’s mood and energy. A person with bipolar disorder experiences two types of mood changes — manic episodes, which are extremely elated or energized periods, and depressive episodes, which include overwhelmingly sad or hopeless feelings.

  • Bipolar 1 Disorder is the first type of the condition. When a person is diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder, he or she will experience manic episodes lasting at least a week — in some cases, the person may need to be treated at a hospital for severe manic symptoms. The person will likely also experience depressive episodes of two weeks or more.
  • Bipolar II Disorder is another variety of the condition. When a person is suffering from Bipolar II Disorder, he or she will experience a pattern of both depressive episodes and manic episodes. However, the person will usually not experience manic episodes or symptoms as severe as those with Bipolar 1 Disorder.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder, or cyclothymia, is a third type of bipolar disorder that manifests itself in different ways than the previous two. When a person struggles with Cyclothymic disorder, he or she will experience both periods of manic symptoms as well as depressive symptoms for at least two years. This can also affect children and teens, who may experience similar episodes for at least one year before being diagnosed. With Cyclothymic Disorder, the symptoms do not meet the requirements needed to diagnose actual manic or depressive episodes.
  • The fourth type of bipolar disorder is a wider category of specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders. When a person is suffering from a type of bipolar disorder in this category, he or she will experience symptoms that don’t match the three other types described here.

Effective treatment can help patients with all types of bipolar disorder.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from bipolar disorder, it’s important to speak with your doctor, who can help determine next steps and refer you to a psychiatrist for a proper diagnosis. While bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, people living with the condition usually find great help in a combination of treatments, including therapy and medication.

Some patients respond poorly to the first medicine they try — everyone’s genetic makeup is different, which can affect the way a person’s body reacts to certain medicines. The Genecept Assay is a genetic test that helps clinicians become better informed when prescribing medication and treatment for a variety of psychiatric conditions, including bipolar disorder.

For more information on the Genecept Assay, consult these patient resources and talk to your doctor about your current treatment plan.

About the Author

David Rosenthal, MD

David Rosenthal, MD, is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who earned his medical

degree at the University of Iowa School of Medicine in 1986 and completed his residency in adult psychiatry and fellowship training in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center.

He is a published author on ADHD and has lectured widely on ADHD, mood disorders and, most recently, on the use of genetic testing to assist in determining the optimal treatment of complex psychiatric disorders. He has taught psychopharmacology classes and has worked in a variety of mental health settings including a large HMO and adolescent and adult prison settings. He is currently in private practice in Boulder, Colorado, where he resides with his wife and son.

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