Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Most people have emotional ups and downs from time to time. But if you have a brain condition called bipolar disorder, your feelings can reach abnormally high or low levels.

Sometimes you may feel immensely excited or energetic. Other times, you may find yourself sinking into a deep depression. Some of these emotional peaks and valleys can last for weeks or months.

There are four basic types of bipolar disorder:

Bipolar 1 and 2 disorders are more common than the other types of bipolar disorder. Read on to learn how these two types are alike and different.

Bipolar 1 vs. bipolar 2

All types of bipolar disorder are characterized by episodes of extreme mood. The highs are known as manic episodes. The lows are known as depressive episodes.

The main difference between bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 disorders lies in the severity of the manic episodes caused by each type.

A person with bipolar 1 will experience a full manic episode, while a person with bipolar 2 will experience only a hypomanic episode (a period that’s less severe than a full manic episode).

A person with bipolar 1 may or may not experience a major depressive episode, while a person with bipolar 2 will experience a major depressive episode.

What is bipolar 1 disorder?

You must have had at least one manic episode to be diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder. A person with bipolar 1 disorder may or may not have a major depressive episode. The symptoms of a manic episode may be so severe that you require hospital care.

Manic episodes are usually characterized by the following:

The symptoms of a manic episode tend to be so obvious and intrusive that there’s little doubt that something is wrong.

What is bipolar 2 disorder?

Bipolar 2 disorder involves a major depressive episode lasting at least two weeks and at least one hypomanic episode (a period that’s less severe than a full-blown manic episode). People with bipolar 2 typically don’t experience manic episodes intense enough to require hospitalization.

Bipolar 2 is sometimes misdiagnosed as depression, as depressive symptoms may be the major symptom at the time the person seeks medical attention. When there are no manic episodes to suggest bipolar disorder, the depressive symptoms become the focus.

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

As mentioned above, bipolar 1 disorder causes mania and may cause depression, while bipolar 2 disorder causes hypomania and depression. Let’s learn more about what these symptoms mean.


manic episode is more than just a feeling of elation, high energy, or being distracted. During a manic episode, the mania is so intense that it can interfere with your daily activities. It’s difficult to redirect someone in a manic episode toward a calmer, more reasonable state.

People who are in the manic phase of bipolar disorder can make some very irrational decisions, such as spending large amounts of money that they can’t afford to spend. They may also engage in high-risk behaviors, such as sexual indiscretions despite being in a committed relationship.

An episode can’t be officially deemed manic if it’s caused by outside influences such as alcohol, drugs, or another health condition.


hypomanic episode is a period of mania that’s less severe than a full-blown manic episode. Though less severe than a manic episode, a hypomanic phase is still an event in which your behavior differs from your normal state. The differences will be extreme enough that people around you may notice that something is wrong.

Officially, a hypomanic episode isn’t considered hypomania if it’s influenced by drugs or alcohol.


Depressive symptoms in someone with bipolar disorder are like those of someone with clinical depression. They may include extended periods of sadness and hopelessness. You may also experience a loss of interest in people you once enjoyed spending time with and activities you used to like. Other symptoms include:

  • tiredness
  • irritability
  • trouble concentrating
  • changes in sleeping habits
  • changes in eating habits
  • thoughts of suicide

This blog post originally appeared on HealthLine and can be viewed here.