Types of bipolar disorder and their characteristics

Bipolar disorder is a serious and complex disorder that presents a wide variety of symptoms. There are different types of this disorder and its symptoms can also present alongside other psychopathologies. like schizophrenia.

In today’s article, we’ll go over the different types of bipolar disorder and their characteristics, as diagnosing this mental illness can be complicated for mental health professionals.

An overdiagnosed disorder

Some experts have long warned that bipolar disorder is overdiagnosed. This is why the University of Brown School of Medicine, in the state of Rhode Island, decided to study this phenomenon, that of overdiagnosis. His conclusions were clear: about 50% of diagnosed cases of bipolar disorder could be wrong.

The research was conducted with the analysis of data provided by interviews conducted on 800 psychiatric patients using a comprehensive diagnostic test, the structured clinical interview for DSM disorders. But what are the causes of this overdiagnosis? Researchers believe there is a greater propensity for specialists to diagnose bipolar disorder compared to other more stigmatizing disorders for which there is no clear treatment.

On the other hand, there is another hypothesis that the blame lies in the aggressive advertising of pharmaceutical companies, as they have a great interest in the marketing of drugs used in the treatment of this disease. Something that also happens with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

  • To learn more about this study, see our article: “Researchers Report Overdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder”

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

The main symptoms of bipolar disorder are unpredictable mood swings., And the most characteristic are the symptoms of mania and depression.

Symptoms of the manic phase

Symptoms of mania include excessive arousal, perception of greatness, irritability, lack of sleep, noticeable increase in energy, elevated sex drive and verbiage. During the manic phase, individuals may abuse drugs, engage in risky behavior, and make harmful and negative decisions for themselves, such as quitting their jobs.

Symptoms of the depressive phase

Symptoms of the depressive phase include sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of energy, uncontrollable crying, changes in appetite leading to weight loss or gain, excessive need to sleep, difficulty making decisions, and thoughts of suicide.

In addition, manic and depressive symptoms can appear together. When this happens, it is called a “mixed episode”.

Types of bipolar disorder

There are different types of bipolar disorder characterized by varying degrees of depressive or manic symptoms. The five types of bipolar disorder are: Cyclothymia, Bipolar Type I Disorder, Bipolar Type II Disorder, Unspecified Bipolar Disorder, and Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder.


Cyclothymia is a variant of bipolar disorder but its symptoms are less severeSimply put, people with this disorder have mild stages of depression and hypomania. The latter, hypomania, is a psychological disorder that can be understood as a weak and less pronounced version of mania, and in fact generally does not endanger the physical integrity of the person who develops it, which happens with the mania typical of bipolar disorder. .

Individuals are diagnosed after symptoms persist for at least two years.

  • Learn more about cyclothymia in our article: “Cyclothymia: The Mild Version of Bipolar Disorder”

Type I bipolar disorder

A person with type I bipolar disorder has had at least one episode of mania in their lifetime.As this type of bipolar disorder is characterized by the presence of manic episodes or, in some cases, mixed, and not necessarily the subject has undergone a depressive phase. However, about 90% of cases the patient goes through both phases (mania and depression).

Bipolar disorder type II

Bipolar type II disorder is diagnosed when the subject has experienced one or more episodes of major depression and at least one episode of hypomania.. Sometimes type II bipolar disorder can be mistaken for major depression, so correct diagnosis is imperative for better patient recovery.

Bipolar disorder not specified

Bipolar disorder may not be classified among the previous three (cyclothymia, type I and type II) for various reasons. For example, when episodes of hypomania are recurring. There are situations where the psychologist or psychiatrist has come to the conclusion that there is bipolar disorder, but is unable to determine whether it is primary, due to a medical illness or because it has been induced by a substance.

The most common subtypes of bipolar disorder are:

  • Very rapid alternation (in days) between manic symptoms and depressive symptoms who do not meet the minimum duration criterion for a manic episode or a major depressive episode.
  • Recurrent hypomanic episodes without intercurrent depressive symptoms.
  • A manic or mixed episode superimposed on a delusional disorder, Residual schizophrenia or unspecified psychotic disorder.

Rapid cycling bipolar disorder

People with rapid cycling bipolar disorder experience at least four episodes of mania or depression in the course of one year. About 10% to 20% of patients with this disorder suffer from the “rapid cycling” type..

Misconceptions about bipolar disorder

Although bipolar disorder is fairly well known to the general public, at least when it comes to the name, there is a lot of misinformation about this psychopathology. Many people believe that this disorder is characterized by sudden mood swings on the same day or emotional ups and downs.

In fact, bipolar disorder is a serious disorder that, like schizophrenia or paranoid disorder, requires the administration of medications and monitoring of patients’ lifestyle to prevent relapses. So, if you want to know more about bipolar disorder and be well informed, we invite you to read our article:

  • “Bipolar disorder: 10 characteristics and curiosities that you did not know”

Bibliographical references:

  • Connolly, Kevin R .; Thase, Michael E. (2011). “Clinical Management of Bipolar Disorder: A Review of the Evidence-Based Guidelines” [El manejo clínico del trastorno bipolar: una revisión de guías clínicas basadas en la evidencia]. Supportive CNS disorder Prim Care.
  • Harrington R. (2005). Affective disorders. Child and adolescent psychiatry. 4th ed. Oxford: Blackwel Publishing.
  • Moreno C, Laje G, Blanco C, Jiang H, Schmidt AB, Olfson M. (September 2007) “National Trends in Ambulatory Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder in Young People,” Archives of General Psychiatry.
  • Salvadore, G .; Quiroz, JA; Machado-Vieira, R .; Henter, ID, Manji, HK, Zarate, Calif. (2010). The neurobiology of the switching process in bipolar disorder: a review. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 71 (11): pages 1488 to 1501.
  • Weissenrieder, Annette (2003). Pictures of diseases in the Gospel of Luke: ideas from ancient medical texts. Mohr Siebeck.

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