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Home Knowledge CenterUnderstanding Bipolar Disorder

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness. People who have bipolar disorder experience dramatic mood swings. They have times when they feel overly energetic. At other times, they feel sad and hopeless. Their moods can fluctuate by going up or down. 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
  • Needing 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.


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.


Counseling for you and your family is important too. It can help you cope with some of the issues that bipolar can cause as 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. Learning to recognize the early signs of highs and lows may help 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

If you have questions or need support, call the number on your Cigna ID card.


Therapy Mood Swings


Understanding Codependency Understanding Depression Physical Symptoms of Depression

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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.

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