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What Is Bipolar I Disorder? How Is It Diagnosed?


Updated May 23, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Bipolar Disorder
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Question: What Is Bipolar I Disorder? How Is It Diagnosed?
Bipolar I disorder is also known as bipolar 1 or bipolar type 1. Bipolar I is the most severe form of manic depression; it is characterized by one or more manic episodes, usually accompanied by major depressive episodes. It is classified as a mood disorder.


There is just one qualifying event in your life a doctor looks for in diagnosing bipolar I disorder: whether you've had, or are having, a manic episode. You don't even have to have a depressive episode to be diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder (although the vast majority of people who experience mania also have episodes of major depression).

This explanation probably seems far too simple, given the severity and complexity of bipolar disorder. But as far as a diagnosis goes, a single manic episode that isn't caused by a substance (could be an illegal drug or a medication, for example) is officially all it takes to diagnose bipolar I disorder.

During manic episodes of bipolar 1 disorder, you may become delusional and/or suffer from hallucinations, which are symptoms of psychosis. If this occurs, the condition is called bipolar I with psychotic features. Bipolar I can seriously impair your day-to-day functioning.

Some Symptoms and Characteristics of Mania Include:

  • Grandiosity
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Pressured speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Distractibility
  • Tendency to engage in behavior that could have serious consequences, such as spending recklessly or inappropriate sexual encounters
  • Excessive energy

Some Symptoms and Characteristics of Major Depression in Bipolar I Disorder Include:

  • Decreased energy
  • Severe withdrawal from normal activities
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Despair
  • Irritability
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Thoughts of, or attempts at, suicide
  • Hallucinations and/or delusions

Diagnosing Other Forms of Bipolar Disorder:

More Resources About Bipolar I Disorder:

Learn About Bipolar Disorder Step-by-Step:

Related Mental Illnesses:

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