Bipolar Disorder Symptoms: How to Tell If You Have Bipolar

The symptoms of bipolar disorder aren’t always easy to spot. While some people experience dramatic highs and lows, for others the signs are much subtler. There is also a lot of misinformation about bipolar disorder, making it easy to misdiagnose or leave untreated, as well as different forms it can take. So how do you know whether you have bipolar or you're just experiencing normal mood changes? Here are some tell-tale symptoms of bipolar disorder.

What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

The symptoms of bipolar disorder vary according to the form the illness takes. A person with bipolar I disorder has typically experienced at least one manic episode, characterized by abnormally high energy, elevated ideas, disruptive or destructive behavior and grandiose ideas. Most people with bipolar I also experience bouts of depression.

Bipolar II is similar to bipolar I, but the “up” moods never meet the criteria for full mania. These episodes are referred to as hypomania. Most people with bipolar II disorder experience more depressive episodes than hypomanic ones.

The third form of bipolar disorder is called cyclothymia. Cyclothymia is characterized by rapid mood cycles between depression and hypomania that don’t fit the criteria for mania or major depression. Many people consider cyclothymia to be the “less severe” form of bipolar disorder, but it can still lead to erratic and unhealthy behavior and disrupt your quality of life. What's more, people with bipolar II or cyclothymia have a heightened risk of developing bipolar type I. All forms of bipolar disorder can have potentially dangerous consequences if left untreated.

Bipolar Disorder Signs and Symptoms List

According to the fifth and most recent edition of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5), which is prepared by the American Psychiatric Association and contains the formal requirements for diagnosing mental illnesses, there are certain diagnostic criteria for bipolar episodes.

According to the DSM-5, tell-tale signs of bipolar disorder symptoms include:

Manic episodes

  • Extremely high self-esteem or grandiosity
  • Reduced need for sleep
  • Talking more than usual, often loudly and quickly
  • Becoming distracted easily
  • Doing too many activities at once
  • Risky behavior, such as spending sprees, substance abuse, hypersexuality and reckless driving
  • Racing thoughts

Hypomanic episodes

According to the DSM-5 bipolar disorder symptoms list, a hypomanic episode is similar to a manic episode except the symptoms are milder, usually lasting a maximum of four days in a row. Most people in hypomania are still able to function perfectly well and do not require hospitalization.

Major depressive episodes

Major depressive episodes are periods of two weeks or more in which a person has at least five of the following symptoms, including one of the first two:

  • Intense sadness or despair, including feeling helpless and hopeless
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Sleep problems, such as sleeping too little or too much
  • Feeling restless or agitated
  • Slowed movements
  • Changes in appetite
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide


To be diagnosed with cyclothymia (cyclothymic disorder), the symptoms of hypomania and depression must be present for two years or more, without becoming full bipolar disorder. During this period, the symptoms will have lasted for half the time and never stopped for more than two months.

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms: How To Know If You Have Bipolar

While educating yourself about bipolar disorder symptoms can be helpful, the only way to tell if you have bipolar is to receive a diagnosis from a medical professional. If you experience symptoms of bipolar disorder, you should see your doctor, even if you don’t have all of them. Your doctor will most likely refer you to a mental health specialist who will assess whether you fit the DSM-5 bipolar disorder symptoms criteria.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2021, December 28). Bipolar Disorder Symptoms: How to Tell If You Have Bipolar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: January 7, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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