Bipolar disorder is often not recognized by the patient, relatives, friends, or even physicians. An early sign of manic-depressive illness may be hypomania--a state in which the person shows a high level of energy, excessive moodiness or irritability, and impulsive or reckless behavior.
Hypomania may feel good to the person who experiences it. Thus, even when family and friends learn to recognize the mood swings, the individual often will deny that anything is wrong.
In its early stages, bipolar disorder may masquerade as a problem other than mental illness. For example, it may first appear as alcohol or drug abuse, or poor school or work performance.
If left untreated, bipolar disorder tends to worsen, and the person experiences episodes of full-fledged mania and clinical depression.
One of the usual differential diagnoses for bipolar disorder is that the symptoms (listed below) are not better accounted for by Schizoaffective Disorder and is not superimposed on Schizophrenia, Schizophreniform Disorder, Delusional Disorder, or Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.
And as with nearly all mental disorder diagnoses, the symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
Specific symptoms of various types of this disorder follow.
Bipolar I Disorder
Bipolar I Disorder actually is a number of separate diagnoses, depending upon the type of mood most recently experienced.