Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mood disorder defined by manic episodes and is diagnosed by recurring episodes and hospitalizations, according to WebMD. Bipolar disorder usually appears early on in people between the ages of 15 and 24 and lasts throughout a lifetime.
Bipolar disorder is complex and is likely due to both genetic and nongenetic factors, notes WebMD. People who have the disorder have episodes of depression and mania with periods of normal mood in between. The severity of the episodes is variable and can happen gradually or suddenly. Along with the episodes, people with bipolar disorder can have disturbances in thinking and perception. Those with this disorder may have many symptoms that impair their ability to work and live a normal life.
If the disorder is untreated, relapses and remissions occur at a high rate and may require hospitalization, according to WebMD. Some people are severely depressed with the disorder and can have suicidal thoughts or psychotic symptoms. To be diagnosed with the disorder, a person must have major changes from normal mood or behavior.
Four types of bipolar exist, with bipolar I disorder being the most serious form, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. During diagnosis, doctors rule out other causes for the condition such as a stroke or brain tumor. Family history of bipolar disorder or other mental illness can also contribute to the diagnosis.