Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Article | March 2018

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. People who have it experience dramatic mood swings. They have times when they feel overly energetic, "high" and or irritable. At other times, they feel sad and hopeless. Their moods go up and down, and, and they often have normal moods in between. The up feeling is called mania. The down feeling is depression.

Bipolar disorder can run in families. It usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood. If you think you may have it, tell your health care provider. A medical check-up can rule out other illnesses that might cause your mood changes.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms depend on whether you're in a manic or depressive phase. During a manic high, you may feel:

  • Very happy, energetic, or on edge
  • Like you need little sleep
  • Overly self-confident.

Some people spend a lot of money or take risks when they're manic. After a manic episode, your mood may return to normal. Or you may swing to a depressive state. During a depressive episode, you may have:

  • Trouble thinking and making decisions
  • Memory problems
  • Less interest in things you've enjoyed in the past
  • Thoughts about killing yourself.

Bipolar mood swings can be mild or extreme. They may come on slowly over several days. Or they might happen suddenly over a few hours or minutes. Mood swings can last for a few hours or several months.

How is it diagnosed?

Bipolar can be tricky to diagnose. Your doctor or therapist will ask detailed questions about your symptoms. You may need blood and urine tests to rule out other problems.

There are two types of bipolar disorder: I and II. To be diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, you must have had:

  • A manic episode lasting at least a week (or less, if you had to be hospitalized)
  • During that episode, three or more symptoms of mania

For bipolar II disorder, your doctor will look for the same symptoms. But the manic high may be less severe and shorter.

How is it treated?

Bipolar disorder can be treated. The right medicines and therapy can help you feel better.

Medicines: You may need to try several medicines to find the right ones for you.

  • Most people need to take a medicine called a mood stabilizer each day.
  • Medicines called antipsychotics can help get a manic phase under control.
  • Antidepressants can be used for depressive episodes. But they can cause some people to swing into a manic phase, so they're used carefully.

Therapy: Counseling for you and your family is important, too. It can help you cope with some of the issues that bipolar can cause. It may disrupt your work and relationships.

Lifestyle changes: You can also make healthy changes to help you deal with bipolar disorder. Getting regular exercise and enough sleep can help. And learning to recognize the early signs of highs and lows helps you stay in control.

People often stop taking their medicine during a manic phase because they feel good. But this is a mistake. You need to take your medicine regularly, even if you feel better.

Cigna has years of experience working with health care providers and people with this disorder. We've learned that there are two keys to successfully managing bipolar:

  1. Education and understanding
  2. Sticking to your treatment

Have questions? Need support? Please call us at the number on your Cigna ID card. We're here to help.

understanding bipolar disorder

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care provider can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health benefits, you can call the member services or behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care ID card.