Bipolar disorder cannot be identified physiologically. That means it cannot be found by things like blood tests or brain scans. It is diagnosed based on symptoms and course of illness. When available, family history plays a role in diagnosis. The diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV).
Bipolar disorder is often diagnosed based on the following:
Mania could be diagnosed based on an abnormally elevated mood. It must last at least one week. It also must occur with three or more of the other symptoms of mania. If your mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be present.
Depression is diagnosed based on depressed mood or loss of interest in pleasure. It must occur every day, or nearly every day. This must last two weeks, and be accompanied by five or more of the symptoms.
A diagnostic evaluation may include a mental status exam. This helps determine if your speech, thought patterns, or memory have been affected. Sometimes this happens in the case of bipolar disorder.
You may also be evaluated for other psychiatric conditions. These include anxiety disorders and alcohol or drug abuse. You will also be evaluated for other potential medical and neurological causes for your symptoms.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc; 2000.
American Psychiatric Association. Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with bipolar disorder (revision). Am J Psychiatry. 2002;159:1-50.
Bipolar disorder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 18, 2010. Accessed August 26, 2010.
Bipolar disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml. Accessed October 11, 2012.
Carson RC, Butcher JN. Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life. 11th ed. New York, NY: Allyn and Bacon; 2000.
Kaye NS. Is your depressed patient bipolar? J Am Board Am Pract. 2005;18:271-281.
Price AL, Marzani-Nissen GR. Biploar disorders: a review. Am Fam Physician. 2012;85:483-93.
Last reviewed October 2012 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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