No blood tests or brain scans can diagnose bipolar disorder. However, a doctor may use tests like these to help rule out other possible causes for your child's symptoms.
Diagnosing bipolar disorder (BPD), especially in the early stages can be difficult as the symptoms are not distinct, can be confusing and there are no laboratory tests that can confirm the presence or absence of BPD. The doctor diagnoses bipolar disorder based on the signs and symptoms, your medical history and your family's medical history, and if tests are needed. Read to know more about how bipolar disorder is diagnosed.
History and physical examination: The first step in diagnosing any mental health disorder is to talk to a doctor. The doctor will take a detailed history and conduct a physical examination. Inform your doctor about any family history of bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses. Your doctor will interview or talk to your close relatives, spouse or friends to know how they describe your symptoms and obtain a family medical history.
Lab tests: Blood test or a brain scan cannot identify bipolar disorder, but they can help to rule out other contributing factors, such as a stroke or a brain tumour as the underlying cause of your symptoms.
Mental health evaluation: If there is no other probable reason for your symptoms, your physician will refer you to a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist (a doctor who specialises in diagnosing and treating mental health disorder such as depression, bipolar disorder). The doctor or mental health professional will discuss with you any family history of bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses and take a detailed history of symptoms.
Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria is used to diagnose most of the mental health problems. The doctor will use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM to diagnose bipolar disorder. Based on the DSM criteria, there are four basic types of bipolar disorder:
- Bipolar I Disorder: This is the classic manic-depressive form of illness the characteristic feature of which is at least one manic episode or mixed episode that lasts for about a week or severe manic symptoms for which the person needs immediate hospital care. Some people may have one episode of depression.
- Bipolar II Disorder: In this form of BPD, the person experiences episodes of hypomania and severe depression but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes.
- Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (BP-NOS): If the symptoms in a person with bipolar disorder do not meet diagnostic criteria for either bipolar I or II, the person is diagnosed with BP-NOS.
- Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia: This is a milder form of a bipolar disorder characterised by cyclical mood swings (i.e. less severe than full-blown mania or depression). A person with this type of bipolar disorder goes through episodes of hypomania that moves back and forth with mild depression for at least two years. But, the symptoms fail to meet the diagnostic requirements for any other type of bipolar disorder.
Most people with bipolar consult a doctor when they are depressed rather than during a manic or hypomanic episode. If you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, consult your doctor on a regular basis for a physical health check, adjustments of a dose of medications, evaluation of side-effects of medications or for the need for a change of medication.
Read more articles on Bipolar Disorder.
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