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Jan 20, 2022
5 min read

Is there a way to test for bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mood condition characterized by swings from extreme highs to extreme lows. There are bipolar disorder tests in the form of questionnaires available online, which may be a helpful start if you’re experiencing symptoms. However, if you experience symptoms of mania, hypomania, or depression, you should seek medical advice. Bipolar disorder can only be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional.

felix gussone

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD

Written by Ethan Miller

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

In your life, do you go through periods when you have more energy than usual? Do you experience frequent mood swings? Do you find yourself sleeping less without being tired? 

These are the kinds of questions you might encounter taking an online bipolar disorder test in the form of a questionnaire. Each test consists of a series of questions about your mental habits to help identify signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder. Let’s explore the condition itself and what tests are used to screen for it. 

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What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, sometimes referred to as manic depression, is a mood condition characterized by cyclical changes in mood. Moods can swing from high to low, or from low to high. 

The term bipolar is a broader category used to define mental health conditions involving mood swings. All of these conditions are classified by swings between high and low moods, but there are differences in the severity of these moods. Within this category are three common types of bipolar disorders including (Guzman-Parra, 2021; Miller 2009): 

  • Bipolar 1: People diagnosed with bipolar 1 have experienced at least one episode of mania lasting for 7 days which can be so severe that you may need to be hospitalized. Most people diagnosed with bipolar 1 have had at least one major depressive episode.
  • Bipolar 2: This type is characterized by depressive episodes alternating with hypomania, a milder form of mania. Hypomania does not impair social life and work to the extent bipolar 1 can. You may hear this type of disorder referred to as bipolar depression. The main difference between bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 is the intensity of the manic episode. For bipolar 1, the manic episode is very intense, and with bipolar 2 people experience a less intense  “high” mood.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: To be classified as cyclothymic disorder, you’ve experienced intermittent highs and lows for at least two years. These mood swings are typically more gentle than other forms of bipolar.

Someone who lives with bipolar disorder may seem very different, depending on when you encounter them. They could be on the upswing of a manic episode and seem hyper, unfocused, or irritable. In the throes of a depressive episode, they may seem listless or uninterested (Gasparro 2016). 

Is there a test for bipolar disorder?

There are a variety of screening tools that can help determine if someone has bipolar disorder. But keep in mind, only a qualified mental health professional can make an actual diagnosis. 

With the deluge of information available online, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you have any number of conditions from online research or questionnaires. While these diagnostic tools can be a helpful starting point, if you think you’re suffering from bipolar disorder seek professional help. It’s important to work with a healthcare provider to develop a proper treatment plan focused on your overall health and wellness. 

A mental health professional will also be able to make a more thorough assessment. They can interpret test results, consult with loved ones, and assess your family history to see if there’s a genetic link to the condition. 

Bipolar screening tests

Most tests for bipolar disorder work by presenting a person with a series of questions about their mental states and habits. Here are a few types of tests someone exhibiting signs of bipolar might take (Miller 2009; Gasparro, 2016): 

  • Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ). A general term for any test that assesses mood disorders. The MDQ typically consists of 13 questions.
  • Bipolar Spectrum Diagnostic Scale (BSDS). This test consists of 19 narrative questions.
  • Hypomanic Personality Scale (HPS). The HPS is a self-reported questionnaire that’s 48 items long. It’s used to assess hypomanic traits, specifically. 
  • Structured Clinical Interview (SCID) for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Also known as the DSM, this is a mental health handbook published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). It’s used as a guideline for professionals to help make diagnoses (APA, n.d.). 

How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

In addition to screening questionnaires, your healthcare provider will first do a complete physical exam and may order laboratory tests. There aren’t any blood markers or scans that show bipolar disorder in the body, but these tests can rule out other issues that may be affecting your mood and behavior (Jain, 2021).

Diagnosing bipolar disorder is often a challenge. Some research has found that because of poor screening for bipolar disorder, the average time from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis is more than seven years. This can be dangerous since diagnosing just depression and prescribing antidepressants without a mood stabilizer can trigger adverse side effects like manic episodes (Miller 2009). 

Especially those with bipolar 2 typically present with depression first, so bipolar 2 can be misdiagnosed as major depression. Sometimes, episodes of hypomania might not even seem like a problem because they’re often marked by extreme productivity or creativity (Miller 2009). 

Bipolar disorder is also sometimes accompanied by other medical conditions like depression, ADHD, substance use disorder, borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenia. Because individuals with bipolar may exhibit behavior that’s radically different during a mood shift, it makes it even harder to zero in on the condition (Phillips 2013).

Treatment for bipolar disorder 

Bipolar is complicated, but the good news is there are several ways to treat it. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with the condition, a therapist can help you develop a treatment plan incorporating some of the approaches below. Note that treatment may look different for each individual, depending on the type and severity of bipolar they have.

Prescription medications

These medications would have to be prescribed and managed by a psychiatrist (Kato, 2019). 

  • Mood stabilizers like lithium
  • Antipsychotics
  • Some antidepressants (though antidepressants without mood stabilizers can trigger manic episodes)
  • Benzodiazepines

Therapeutic

These techniques would be used during a session with a therapist. 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT)
  • Psychoeducation
  • Talk therapy

Other therapies

Some people do not respond well to medications or cannot take them. In this case, there are other options pursued by some patients, such as electroconvulsive therapy (Salik, 2020).

If you think you suffer from bipolar disorder, talk to your family or loved ones and seek help from a mental health professional. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts or behaviors of suicide or self-harm, help is available for free. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor

References

  1. American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2021). The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-5®. Appi.org. Retrieved from https://www.appi.org/products/structured-clinical-interview-for-dsm-5-scid-5
  2. Gasparro, A. M. (2016). Advanced Practice Registered Nurses: Gateway to Screening for Bipolar Disorder in Primary Care. The Open Nursing Journal, 10, 59–72. doi:10.2174/187443460160101059. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27347256/Kriebel-Gasparro
  3. Guzman-Parra, J., Streit, F., Forstner, A. J., Strohmaier, J., González, M. J., Gil Flores, S., et al. (2021). Clinical and genetic differences between bipolar disorder type 1 and 2 in multiplex families. Translational Psychiatry, 11(1), 31. doi:10.1038/s41398-020-01146-0. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7801527/
  4. Jain, A. & Mitra, P. (2020). Bipolar affective disorder. [Updated Nov 21, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/18332
  5. Kato, T. (2019). Current understanding of bipolar disorder: Toward integration of biological basis and treatment strategies. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 73(9), 526-540. doi:10.1111/pcn.12852. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/pcn.12852
  6. Miller, C. J., Johnson, S. L., & Eisner, L. (2009). Assessment Tools for Adult Bipolar Disorder. Clinical Psychology, 16(2), 188–201. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2850.2009.01158.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20360999/
  7. Parker, G., Fletcher, K., McCraw, S., & Hong, M. (2014). The hypomanic personality scale: a measure of personality and/or bipolar symptoms? Psychiatry Research, 220(1-2), 654–658. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2014.07.040. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25156658/
  8. Phillips, M. L., & Kupfer, D. J. (2013). Bipolar disorder diagnosis: challenges and future directions. Lancet (London, England), 381(9878), 1663–1671. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60989-7. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23663952/
  9. Salik, I. (2020). Electroconvulsive therapy. [Updated Sep 21, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/20971