Bipolar Affective Disorder

What is bipolar affective disorder?

Bipolar affective disorder is a mood disorder characterized by alternating periods of very high and very low mood. These are called manic episodes and depressive episodes. Manic episodes are periods of an abnormally elevated mood, euphoria, and activity but also irritability. Depressive episodes include persistent sadness, loss of interest and lowered drive. This condition is mainly caused by genetic factors and chemical imbalance in the brain. It is also a diagnosis which requires lifelong treatment and management. This can be achieved through psychological counseling and medication. Although bipolar disorder needs lifelong management, many people learn to manage their symptoms and live well with a diagnosis of bipolar mood disorder.


The causes of bipolar disorder are not completely understood, though it's believed that several interacting factors lead to the development of this condition. These include chemical imbalances in the brain, genetics (the condition sometimes runs in families), and environmental factors (such as traumatic events in childhood and other stressful life circumstances).


People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of very high and very low moods. These may occur separated by weeks, months or years. In both episodes, psychotic symptoms (such as delusional ideas, hallucinations, etc.) may be noted. During depressive episodes, people feel 'low', with low energy levels, decreased motivation and difficulty concentrating. They may gain weight, and feel that their movements and thoughts slow down and become less spontaneous. During manic episodes, people feel energetic, hyperactive and capable. Manic episodes are characterized by a euphoric mood with impulsive, sometimes irrational, behavior and a 'speeding up' of thinking and talking. In addition, these people need little sleep. Depressive and manic episodes may occur in any order, with or without a pause between them, and even at once. Many people find that stressful life events bring on an episode of depression or mania.


The diagnosis of bipolar mood disorder is usually made by a specialist psychiatrist after reviewing the symptoms and the pattern of these over time. Due to the nature of bipolar disorder, it is often helpful for the psychiatrist to discuss these symptoms with people close to the person with bipolar disorder. A doctor should exclude other possible causes for the symptoms before diagnosing bipolar disorder, so blood tests or scans of the brain may be done for this purpose. Blood tests are also sometimes necessary to monitor medications used to treat bipolar disorder.


Therapy involves medications to stabilize the mood. Psychotherapy and education about the condition may help people come to terms with their diagnosis and recognize the symptoms of mania or depression before they become overwhelming. Regular check-ups with a GP, psychologist or psychiatrist may help in monitoring response to medication.


A good support network before and after diagnosis may help recognize symptoms of depression or mania early, and prevent some of the consequences of these.

Other names for bipolar affective disorder

  • Bipolar affective disorder in adults