Causes, Symptoms & Effects of Bipolar Disorder

Cedar Crest Hospital & Residential Treatment Center helps individuals who are struggling with bipolar disorder find long-term recovery. Located in Belton, TX, Cedar Crest is the leader in mental health care.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Learn about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, often known as manic-depressive disorder, is a very serious mental health condition that is characterized by tremendous changes in mood that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania. During a manic cycle of bipolar disorder, people with bipolar disorder may feel indefatigable, requiring little sleep and often forgoing food for days on end. Symptoms of mania may make a person feel they can do anything and cause them to engage in risk-taking behaviors entirely unlike their normal behaviors. Conversely, people who are in a depressive cycle of bipolar disorder feel sadness, extreme hopelessness, worthlessness, and as though life is barely worth getting out of bed to live. Mixed bipolar episodes occur when the symptoms of depression and mania occur at exactly the same time, and are particularly dangerous – the rapid increase of energy coupled with the feelings of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts working together can lead to serious complications. There are three types of bipolar disorder recognized, each with their own pattern of symptoms:

Bipolar I disorder: The mood swings associated with bipolar I disorder involve highly disorganized full-blown manic symptoms, involving erratic behaviors that can negatively impact daily life. Symptoms of depression can be severe enough that some people may contemplate ending their own life.

Bipolar II disorder is a more mild form of bipolar disorder. While people who have bipolar II will experience milder manic and depressive cycles, these symptoms are still severe enough to cause significant impairment in activities of daily living.

Cyclothymia or cyclothymic disorder is another even milder form of bipolar disorder. The cycles of mania and depression are disruptive to daily living, however these cycles are not as severe in bipolar I and bipolar II disorder.

Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder is a very severe form of bipolar disorder and is diagnosed when a person experiences four or more episodes of depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states within one year.

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be severe and lead to lasting consequences if left untreated. These symptoms are not like normal changes in mood and energy – they’re far more extreme than what other people experience. Bipolar disorder can make it hard for people to carry out daily tasks, like going to work or engaging in lasting relationships. Many times, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be so severe that a person may need treatment in the hospital. But with the help and guidance of an inpatient treatment center, you or your loved one can find the right path to recovery. 


Bipolar disorder statistics

Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adults (or 2.6% of the population) in the United States each year. While bipolar disorder affects men and women equally, about three times as many women experience rapid cycling bipolar disorder. The median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 30 years of age, however, the illness can develop in childhood or as late as in the 40s or 50s.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder

There is not one single cause responsible for the development of bipolar disorder. It’s generally accepted that bipolar disorder is the result of genetic, physical, environmental, and risk factors working together. The most common causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder include:

Genetic: Bipolar disorder tends to have a familial component. People who have a relative – notably a first-degree relative – who struggle with bipolar disorder are at greater risk for developing the disorder than others without a similar history.

Physical: Neuroimaging studies such as MRIs and CT scans have shown that there are changes in the structure and function in the brain of those who have bipolar disorder. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, used for solving problems and making decisions, has been noted to be smaller and function less well than in those who do not have a similar history. Additionally, an imbalance in naturally-occurring neurotransmitters can play a large role in developing bipolar disorder and other mood disorders.

Environmental: It’s thought that many people who develop bipolar disorder are reacting to stress-related events and traumas in their lives.

Risk Factors:

  • Substance use and abuse
  • Major life changes
  • Childhood trauma, abuse, neglect
  • Being in your 20s

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder

The symptoms of bipolar disorder will appear in different ways so much so that they often vary from person to person. It’s important to note that every person, whether they suffer from bipolar disorder or not, will show some of these behaviors at certain times and should never be considered to be bipolar disorder unless diagnosed. Some of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder include:

Manic (or hypomanic) Symptoms:

  • Behaving in an overly silly or joyful mood unlike normal personality
  • Extremely short temper
  • Unusual irritability
  • Sleeping little
  • Not feeling tired
  • Talking a lot
  • Racing thoughts
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Jumping from one thing to the next in an unusual way
  • Talking or thinking about sex more than usual
  • Risky behaviors
  • Seeking pleasure no matter the cost
  • Engaging in more activities than normal

Depressive Symptoms:

  • Long-lasting sad mood
  • Losing interest in previously-enjoyed activities
  • Feeling worthless
  • Extreme guilt
  • Complaints of pain
  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Muscle pain
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Unusual gaining or losing weight
  • Sleeping or oversleeping in an uncharacteristic manner
  • Loss of energy
  • Thoughts of death and suicide


Effects of bipolar disorder

If left untreated or undiagnosed, bipolar disorder can cause a number of damaging consequences in a person’s life. The effects of bipolar disorder can include:

  • Social isolation
  • Addiction to drugs or alcohol
  • Legal problems and/or incarceration
  • Damaged interpersonal relationships
  • Poor performance at school or work
  • Loneliness
  • Frequent absences in work or school
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bipolar disorder and co-occurring disorders

People who have bipolar disorder may also struggle with other types of mental illnesses. The most common disorders that co-occur with bipolar disorder include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity-disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • PTSD
  • ADHD
  • Conduct disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Disruptive behavior disorders
  • Other substance abuse
  • Addiction
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Thanks to the comprehensive staff members at Cedar Crest, I have my bipolar disorder under much better control now. I am forever grateful for their help.

– Anonymous Patient
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