Bipolar Disorder Causes & Effects

The signs, symptoms, and effects of bipolar disorder can look different for each person impacted. Learning about bipolar disorder is one of the first steps toward healing.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a severe mental disorder characterized by manic and depressive episodes. During a manic episode, a person may have excessive amounts of energy, a reduced need for sleep, may embark on large, unrealistic projects, and may engage in excessive risk-taking behaviors. During a depressive episode, a person may become withdrawn, have a depressed mood, lose pleasure in activities he or she used to enjoy, experience changes in weight, suffer from fatigue, and experience a decrease in his or her ability to problem-solve or concentrate.

While all bipolar disorders are diagnosed based on the presence of manic or hypomanic and depressive symptoms, there are three primary types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia. A person with bipolar I disorder experiences full manic and depressive episodes, while a person with bipolar II experiences hypomanic episodes and full depressive episodes. The mania of bipolar I and the hypomania of bipolar II are differentiated by the degree to which a person’s ability to function is impaired by the episode, with a hypomanic episode causing less overall impairment than a manic episode. Finally, cyclothymia is the least severe of the bipolar disorders. A person with cyclothymia experiences some symptoms of hypomania and some symptoms of depressive episodes but does not meet criteria for full hypomanic episodes or full depressive episodes.

Living with bipolar disorder can be extremely difficult, but thankfully, it is possible to receive treatment that can allow a person with bipolar disorder to manage his or her symptoms and live a full and happy life.


Bipolar disorder statistics

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, approximately 1.8 percent of people are struggling with bipolar disorder in a given year, and roughly the same number of men and women are diagnosed with the disorder. About 1 percent of people are diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder. Bipolar disorders also tend to be more common in more affluent countries.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

While the exact causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder continue to be researched, experts agree that the following factors play a role in determining a person’s risk of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder:

Genetic: A person’s genetics play a powerful role in determining his or her risk of developing bipolar disorder. People who have family members with bipolar disorder are nearly ten times more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder than are people without a family history of bipolar disorder. In addition, people with a family history of schizophrenia are also more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Environmental: Bipolar disorder tends to be more common in wealthier countries than in poorer countries. In addition, people who are separated, widowed, or divorced are also more likely to have the disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of bipolar disorder or substance use disorder(s)
  • Living in a more affluent country
  • Experiencing a marital separation or divorce, or death of a spouse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

While the symptoms of bipolar disorder depend on a number of factors, such as a person’s personality and whether he or she is experiencing a manic or depressive episode, the following are some common signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

Manic episode:

  • Engaging in risky or impulsive behavior
  • Taking on grandiose projects
  • Rapid, loud, or pressured speech
  • Restlessness or pacing

Depressive episode:

  • Slowing of motor activity

Physical symptoms:

Manic episode:

  • Reduced need for sleep

Depressive episode:

  • Changes in weight
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in appetite, which could lead to weight loss or gain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Excessive need for sleep

Cognitive symptoms:

Manic episode:

  • Racing thoughts
  • Distractibility

Depressive episode:

  • Poor ability to concentrate
  • Reduction in problem-solving or decision-making ability
  • Thoughts of death
  • Suicidal ideation

Psychosocial symptoms:

Manic episode:

  • Expansive, elevated mood
  • Emotional lability
  • Excessive self-esteem

Depressive episode:

  • Depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt


Effects of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can have numerous severe and negative effects on a person’s life, which may include:

  • Contracting an STI during a risky sexual encounter
  • Legal trouble
  • Financial difficulties
  • Poor performance at work
  • Loss of job
  • Social isolation
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Worsening or onset of other mental health symptoms
  • Developing a substance use disorder
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

Unfortunately, people with bipolar disorder may also struggle with other co-occurring disorders, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Conduct disorder
  • Sleep disorders

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